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Rise of the Phoenix

Chapter Text

            Five years had passed since Tadashi's death and the subsequent conflict with Callaghan. The showdown at KreiTech that had made Hiro and his group of friends instant heroes in the eyes of San Fransokyo had launched a year of nightly vigilante activity. His secret masquerading, in addition to college courses difficult enough to force him to work at school for possibly the first time in his life, kept Hiro frantically busy. He rarely had much more than a spare moment to dwell upon the injustice borne of Callaghan’s trial or the gaping hole left where his brother should have stood with his lectures and encouragements in equal measure. In both cases, there hadn’t been anything he could do.

            The distraction and hype of being a hero quickly diminished as the public came to realize the lack of need for a full-time group of young superheroes. After the first year, it became apparent that Hiro and his group had only the ability to impact surface-level crimes, while driving the more significant criminals further underground, making the police’s jobs harder as a whole, and in turn creating more trouble than good for the wary city. While they were assured of being placed on the law enforcement’s speed dial, to be called upon should the need arise, the team was otherwise free to resume working on their projects from before the convention, or in Fred's case, to provide team spirit and fantastic, if unscientific, ideas.

            As the years continued to pass, and Hiro’s relationships with his new friends grew stronger, he found that it was easier and easier to come to terms with Tadashi's death. Though there were still moments where he missed his brother deeply, the draining ache of his absence that Hiro had felt shortly after the fire did not make a reappearance.

            Over this time, Hiro’s mind and body matured, and he came to hate that as he grew older the resemblance to his deceased brother become painstakingly evident. A glimpse of a reflection in the corner of his eye was enough to renew the light pain in his chest that, though greatly lessened, never truly went away.

            Hiro finished college in three easy years, ditching bot fighting permanently - the mere thought of the event he once loved now sent a spear of diluted grief towards his heart - to go on to work in the medical field, primarily orthotics. He pursued the profession of designing and creating improved prosthetics for amputees, using the technology of microbots in conjunction with standard artificial limbs to allow for greater range and control of movement. He also continued working on Baymax, keeping him updated on new medical procedures, while making sure to preserve a back-up chip of Tadashi's data in order to lessen the probability of losing the core of who Baymax was.

            Two years ago, shortly after graduation, he took up the project of creating two new robotic nurses, with all of the protocol but none of the personality of Baymax, and sent them to the major hospitals of San Fransokyo as a test of their ability to assist in real-time hospital work. He kept Baymax nearby, not having it in his heart to part with him, considering he was the most important physical remnant of Tadashi that remained.

            Though they went their separate ways after graduation, the team remained determined to stay in contact.

            Gogo went on to become a competitive cyclist, while creating a whole new line of bicycles based on her electro-magnetic suspension prototype. It was rare that her prized bike be allowed in a standard race, but when it was, she never lost. Not that she did much losing on her regular one, anyway.

            Honey moved to England, becoming a leading scientist in the field of chemical engineering, and continued to send photos back detailing her occasional side-trips to Paris, the result of her latest concoction, or what she had for lunch at the small café on the street corner; she isn't picky.

            Fred would drop in every now and then, raving on about the latest edition of whichever comic series he had devoted his attentions to that week, while sometimes alluding to some family secret involving his dad and a secret room and a family island. With his tendency towards conspiracies and dramatic plots, the team doubted the veracity of many of his claims, for most of them were likely the result of some convoluted dream. Honestly, who had ever heard of a superhero room devoted mostly to super-undies?

            Wasabi had attained his Master of Science degree in applied physics and was working towards his doctorate of engineering science in applied physics, specializing in plasma physics. He was also the most likely to stop by the small café to chat or even help out on Beat Poetry nights when business was at its peak.

            His help became all the more valuable after an afternoon, roughly a year ago, when Aunt Cass tripped over Mochi, falling down the flight of stairs leading to the café. She initially complained of a headache, and Baymax confirmed a mild concussion, suggesting bed confinement until the symptoms died down. In the weeks to follow, any attempt at resuming work resulted in a sharp headache, nausea, and dizziness, and though Aunt Cass would insist she was all right, Hiro would demand she stay in bed and had Baymax scan her after each episode. The only treatment available for a concussion was to allow it to heal on its own, but Aunt Cass continually insisted on doing what she considered minor activities whenever Hiro wasn't around to determine otherwise.

            One day, Hiro came home from a follow-up meeting with a hospital, one of the few in which a robot of his worked, to an empty café and a message from Wasabi telling him to return to the hospital he had just left. Baymax had activated from his charging station upon hearing Aunt Cass's cry of distress when she had once again tried to get out of bed in Hiro's absence. A quick scan had confirmed a hemorrhagic stroke incited by a secondary head trauma that was gained when she fell out of bed. Baymax was able to take her to the hospital in less time and with less impact than an ambulance would have been able to, considering the traffic. Tadashi was still watching over his family, even from beyond the grave, and Hiro had sent a silent murmur of gratitude to his sibling.

            He hadn't even thought to check his silenced phone after the meeting and, upon reentering the hospital, discovered that his aunt was already in surgery in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Baymax and Wasabi greeted him in the waiting room, and with Gogo and Fred running in the moment they heard, a video chat with Honey Lemon completed the team as they anxiously waited for news.

            Hiro's nervous pacing was interrupted when a kind, human nurse lead him back to the room where his aunt lay on a hospital bed. The nurse was quick to assuage his initial fearful reaction by informing him that, while his aunt was in a coma from the damage done by the build-up of blood in the brain, she had slight reflexive responses to pain, indicating a possibility of recovery upon her awakening. She assured him that any change would be reported and detailed visiting hours he already knew as she led him out of the room.

            A year passed, and though there had been moments of activity beneath her eyelids, his aunt’s condition hadn’t really changed. Hiro kept the little café in business, running it on his own during the times he wasn't needed elsewhere. Though he contemplated creating robots with the sole purpose of running the café, he decided against it. The idea of replacing his aunt - who had been there for him ever since the passing of his parents - with machines didn’t settle well with him. To come back every day to nothing more than his own creations... it wouldn't feel like home anymore.

 

 


 

            On an abnormally stormy morning, Hiro had trudged downstairs and opened the shop, unsurprised at the lack of customers for the first couple of hours. The torrent of rain made it nearly impossible to see the streetlight out the window or to distinguish anything more than the headlights of the few brave souls who had decided their destination's importance trumped the dangers of San Fransokyo's weather.

            Around midafternoon the storm abated to a light, if persistent rainfall, allowing a few regulars to trickle in, nearly driven mad by their lack of unnecessary decaf and weak lattes. It was a short day, boring as most were when he wasn't absorbed in his latest project. The time approached the six-o-clock closing time, and the café had been completely empty for the past half hour.

            Hiro had closed the register and was spinning the cafe keys on his finger when a heavily clothed child wandered in, splattering water on the polished floor. His heavy coat's hood was pulled up and a bright red scarf that was certainly not sized for a child was wound multiple times around his neck; it almost completely covered his face. As the child began to struggle to loosen the scarf, Hiro hurried over to assist, frowning at the lack of an accompanying adult.

"Hey, buddy. Did you wander away from your parents?"

            As he reached the child, he bent down to his level just as the scarf was left successfully unwound around his neck. The child reached to take off his hood, revealing soft brown eyes that Hiro recognized immediately. Pushing black rain-soaked hair back off his forehead, he smiled widely up at Hiro, showing a small gap between his front teeth like the older boy had.

            Hiro's mind froze as he tried to process the impossible possibility. His body locked up, mouth agape and eyes blinking rapidly, as if blinking would make the familiar traits of this child fade to something reasonable.

            Maybe... no, there's no way that-.

            But when the child spoke Hiro's name quietly, his voice, though definitely not as deep as it had been, caused warm tears to build up behind his eyes.

            "Tadashi?" Hiro choked.

            The child nodded his head gleefully. Tadashi jumped, practically knocking Hiro over, and wrapped his small arms around him in a tight hug, Hiro practically engulfing his miniature frame as tears began to escape the corners of his eyes. Hiro could feel the much smaller version of his brother start to shake.

            "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I'm sorry I left you, Hiro."

            "But, but how? How are you alive?"

            "I-I'm not sure, it's kind of blurry." Tadashi pulled away slightly and looked at Hiro with misted eyes. "I remember flames and warmth, and it should have hurt, but there’s no pain up here.” He tapped his temple. “The only thing I remember after that is growing up in the orphanage."

            Tadashi took another step back, taking a deep breath and fiddling with his scarf as he gathered his thoughts.

            "I didn't think anything of it at first, but I heard them whisper about me being pulled from a burning building by a fireman looking for survivors and how they didn't think my parents had made it since no one came looking for me. They were going to put me up for adoption, before I got too old for people to want me."

            Tadashi looked around the café, taking everything in. "A week ago, I began to remember. It started in little snippets, flashes of our parents, you, Aunt Cass, going to SFIT. I tried asking about it, but they just looked at me funny. I used one of the computers to look up the incident of the burning building that I had been found in. The reports said they never found my - Tadashi’s - body."

            He shrugged his shoulders a little. "Everything sort of fell into place after that."

            Hiro’s brows remained furrowed, hundreds of thoughts and questions dancing on the tip of his tongue, but in that moment, with his sibling blinking up at him with his wide dark gaze, warmth flooded his chest. He smiled, unable to resist the urge to hug his brother again as he wrapped him in his arms and stood, easily carrying his weight.

            "I missed you so much, Tadashi. I love you."

            Tadashi laughed from his place in his former-younger brothers arms. "I love you too, little bro."

            A single brow shot up at his words, and Hiro responded skeptically. "I'm not the little one anymore. How old are you, anyway?" He could give a fair guess, but knowing his luck, he’d probably end up being much younger than he estimated.

            Tadashi thought for a moment before holding out his little hand with all of the fingers extended.

            "Five."

            Hiro couldn't help but laugh, thinking of all the brotherly payback the little one would have in store.

            He had him back. After five painful years, Tadashi was here, looking around the café with his head resting on his now bigger brother's shoulder. Hiro turned and carried the small child straight up to his room, heading over to the red charging station and setting Tadashi back on his own feet.

            Standing over it, Hiro spoke in the most deadpan voice he could muster.

            "Ow."

            It was evident Baymax had been spending much too time around Hiro. He was programmed to learn socialization through the interactions around him, and had consequently gained a sense of humor and the ability to be sarcastic. Upon inflating, the first thing Baymax said made Hiro double over with happy tears and laughter.

            "I told you, Tadashi is here."

 

 

Chapter Text

           Hiro turned his head from his desktop, fondly watching the figure of a sleeping Tadashi through the open divider. It hadn’t taken long after reuniting with Baymax for the five-year-old’s eyelids to start drooping, and, after shedding his coat and boots with a little assistance from Hiro, he curled up with his scarf in the middle of his old bed and was dead to the world in seconds.

            Hiro chuckled softly at the memory of Tadashi’s petulant face when he discovered he didn’t quite have the dexterity to unbutton his jacket all the way, and how he had completely refused Hiro’s offers of assistance until he realized his arms were stuck inside the cumbersome semi-removed item of clothing. It seemed Tadashi’s determination to return to his usual existence was much too fast-paced for his miniature five-year-old body.

            Hiro turned back to the task at hand: obtaining official possession of Tadashi. It had taken him well towards three hours to find the particular orphanage Tadashi had been living in, since he failed to ask him before he went to sleep, and he hadn’t the heart to wake him up now. As it turned out, it was a larger one, named oh-so-originally San Fransokyo Orphanage.

            Apparently, since Tadashi had not been put up for adoption officially, he was still considered a missing person, and an adult family member who could prove relations was free to claim him with minimal paperwork required. Hiro frowned at the apparent ease of gaining custody of a five year old child, relations or not. However, after a brief pause, he decided against mentally ranting against the poor child protection services. (Given Murphy’s Law and wishful thinking and whatnot, he wasn’t about to risk anything.)

            With Aunt Cass still in the hospital, Hiro had surprisingly found himself in a situation where he was actually thankful for his truckload of responsibilities and social expectations as a nineteen year old. Being classified as an adult was difficult, certainly, but it was worth it to have been granted the ability to claim Tadashi without his Aunt’s assistance. Tadashi was an agreeable kid, and if Hiro hadn’t been old enough to take custody of him, another year might have been too late.

            Avoiding thinking about the nightmare that might have ensued had Tadashi already been adopted, Hiro called the orphanage, who said they would send over a representative within the hour with the proper paperwork.

            “Hey, Baymax, could you get a DNA sample from Tadashi without waking him? Also, run a thorough scan on him, just in case.” Hiro slid his chair towards Baymax, who had looked up from the side of the bed he had taken silent vigil over.

            “Yes, Hiro, the needles I have been equipped with cause minimal pain and should not wake him.” Baymax moved to withdraw a sample of blood into a ballooned finger, turning it a pale red. Tadashi barely stirred. “Also, I already scanned him when you first brought him within my care. Aside from natural reactions to being out in the rain for an extended period of time, Tadashi is in perfect health.”

            Hiro handed Baymax a small vial to place the extracted blood into, and offered his own arm for the same process. “Yeah, well do it again. You might have missed something.”

            “I do not miss things, but I shall do as you command, Master Hiro.” Hiro rolled his eyes at the ‘title’ that Baymax saw fit to address him with when he thought he was being unreasonable. Robots - Sarcastic self-aware machines, the lot of them. Baymax handed Hiro the two vials, one that he labeled with a large, precise ‘T’ and the other, more recently filled vial with an ‘H’.

            “Scan complete. I again reassert my previous observation that Tadashi is in perfect health, though perhaps I should remark on a few significant changes.”

            Hiro scoffed, “Of course he has a “few significant changes”: he was an adult, and now he’s five. I should hope he’s different.”

            “That is not what I was referring to.”

            Hiro frowned, eyes rounding in worry as he turned towards Baymax.

            “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

            “There is nothing wrong, I already stated that he is in full health. However, though his DNA is largely the same, and the changes should not affect the test you plan to use them for, there are significant physical changes. For instance, though they maintain a healthy density required to prevent breakage, his bones are now hollow, in the same way that an avian’s would be.” Baymax pulled up an x-ray of Tadashi’s arm to provide proof.

            “...What? No, this has to be a mistake, scan him again.”

            “It is no mistake, the abnormality appeared in both scans and was not present before the fire, when I scanned Tadashi during my creation.”

            Hiro’s eyes darted around the room as he contemplated this new reality, struggling to find something to center himself with, his eyes finally returning to the sleeping form on the bed.

            “Well, I guess that isn’t so bad. I mean, if it doesn’t hurt him, then I guess there is nothing wrong with it. It does explain why he was so light for a five year old.” Hiro glanced up at Baymax, dreading the answer to his next question. “Is that all?”

            “No.” Hiro’s heart sank to his stomach even as he reminded himself that Baymax had said Tadashi was perfectly healthy. Baymax paused before continuing. “I have also sensed an anomaly that I believe resulted from his unconscious state. When you delivered him to the room, his body temperature matched yours at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. However, upon his unconsciousness it has fluctuated between that and 115 degrees, but with no negative effects to his well-being and with no sign of an infection that might prompt the body to respond in such a way.”

            Hiro reached out his hand and gently laid it on Tadashi’s forehead, careful not to wake him, and frowned at the heat radiating off the sleeping figure.

            “And you’re absolutely positive he isn’t sick?” Hiro didn’t want to take any chances with the well-being of his sibling, certainly not so soon after getting him back.

            “I am 97.4 percent positive that, unless some new illness has learned to superheat a person without harming them, Tadashi is not sick.”

            “Haha, very funny.” Hiro didn’t appreciate the approach that Baymax took to allay his fears, though admittedly he caused it in all likelihood. He couldn’t imagine losing his brother again to something as trivial as a fever, especially with a fully functioning medical robot residing in his home.

            His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell downstairs, and he grabbed the two vials, placing them in his jacket pocket to avoid scaring someone who was potentially not the representative he was expecting to see at the door.

            The representative seemed surprised that Hiro already had DNA samples, but when Hiro explained about Baymax, she relaxed and asked if she could see him and Tadashi before going on her way, if only to affirm that Tadashi was in safe hands. A quick peek upstairs and she was convinced, and she handed a small packet of papers to Hiro that would practically determine Tadashi’s existence, since he had been found so young and without any identification.

            Hiro saw her out, silently grateful that it had gone so painlessly, and that he now had a way of reentering Tadashi into his life. He briefly laughed at the idea of Tadashi having to interact with actual kindergartners, though he doubted that it would actually occur.

            Though his body lacked the strength and dexterity of an adult, his mind held too much information to go through school again the systematic way. Besides, Tadashi would probably accept nothing less than being reinstated at SFIT with his friends. Hiro’s mind crashed to a halt at this thought. The team. They didn’t know. They were still living in a world where Tadashi had perished in the fire five years ago. He had to tell them!

            Hiro’s hand was halfway to his phone before he remembered the likelihood of the team barreling into the café to see their long-lost friend. It wasn’t even nine at night; they would inevitably make it their number one priority. Well, Honey would take a significantly longer time to arrive than the others, but there would still be no way that Tadashi would be able to remain sleeping - or to get any sleep that night, in fact - if he told them right then.

            Hiro debated just calling Honey Lemon, but remembered that in England it was barely past four thirty in the morning. He decided that the entire team would find out in the morning when Tadashi was ready. Looking over at the curled form across the room, making out the gentle rise and fall of Tadashi’s chest, Hiro couldn’t stop the smile that broke across his face as he reached over to turn out the light.

            Tadashi was back. He had his brother back.   

 

 

Chapter Text

               Tadashi’s eyelids fluttered open, squinting at the sunlight peeking through the window. Putting his legs over the side of the bed, he carefully lowered his feet onto the wooden floor. The cold seeped through his socks, but quickly warmed to a tolerable temperature - that was, until he took another step.

               The floor had always been cold in the mornings, especially in the winter months, when a persistent chill would permeate the upstairs apartment regardless of how much heat the single vent pushed into the room. Tadashi didn’t think it should be this cold so early in November, but chalked it up to having simply forgotten what it was really like in his absence.

               He toddled down the stairs to the bathroom, and afterwards grabbed a blueberry pastry from the counter. Making his way back into the room he shared with Hiro, he took a minute to look around ‘his’ space, taking note of the lack of the clutter that usually littered every surface on Hiro’s side of the room. In fact, it looked like it hadn’t been touched in all the years of his absence, besides the textbooks that were on the top of his old dresser... that he couldn’t quite reach. Huffing, he looked around for something to stand on, when his eyes landed on his little-big-younger-older brother whose covers had slid off of the bed.

               Tadashi laughed fondly as memories of Hiro falling asleep watching a movie, half draped on the couch and hanging precariously on the edge came to mind. He had always had to move or resituate Hiro to prevent him falling off completely... or startle him and watch the mad scramble of limbs as Hiro tried to regain his balance and most of the time ended up on the floor, before jumping to his feet and swearing revenge - which usually involved variations of putting Tadashi’s toothbrush in something vile. Not that Tadashi ever used the red toothbrush in the cup in the bathroom, but rather the blue one he had stashed away in case Hiro ever acted upon his threats.

               He was brought abruptly back into the present when Hiro stirred, remaining blissfully unconscious, and shivered in a subconscious response to the low temperatures of the room. Tadashi found that lifting the winter comforter from the floor proved too much for his five year old strength and debated just going back to sleep himself, since prior experience told him that attempting to drag Hiro out of bed at seven in the morning was practically impossible - or otherwise guaranteed inevitable payback of some form -, even more so now that he couldn’t physically move him.

               Making up his mind, he pushed Hiro’s chair to the edge of the bed and locked the wheels in place, climbing up on to it and then onto the plain blue bedcover. He curled up next to Hiro, facing away towards the computer screen so that they were back to back; the way they used to sleep if and when either of them had had a nightmare during the first few years after their parents had passed away. It didn’t take long for Tadashi to drop back to sleep, lulled by Hiro’s steady breathing and the faint ticking of the clock on the opposite wall.

               Hiro woke up to the feeling of something extremely warm pressed against his back, similar to the sensation of one of Baymax’s warming hugs that came in handy as the temperatures took a dip, or if he got caught out in the rain on the way back from work. Sitting up, he turned to look at Tadashi, wondering if it was a nightmare that had brought him over, mentally chastising himself for sleeping through it.

               He slid off the bed and gathered up the covers on the floor, bundling them up at the foot of the bed to straighten out later. Grabbing his jacket from the bedpost, he dug his phone out of the pocket, and sent a quick text to Honey Lemon, asking if she would be free to video chat in a little while. Considering the clock showed a little after nine in the morning, Honey Lemon would be preparing for dinner soon, and he wanted the whole team to be as present as possible for the surprise.

 


 

               While waiting for a response, Hiro began to wade through the paperwork, filling out everything he could without Tadashi’s input. Would Tadashi want to register as a new person, or somehow regain his old identity? Pressing fingers into his temples and trying to massage away the ache that was building in his skull, he slipped the papers back into their folder. Once they were properly stored, he headed downstairs to treat himself to some of the leftovers that couldn’t be sold tomorrow and to prepare for the day.

               After a quick shower, Hiro checked his phone again to see the message from Honey confirming her availability to talk and her insistence that Hiro could call her whenever he needed to, since ‘sleep was just a novelty’. Included in the text was a picture which Hiro had difficulty making out the subject of, since there was so much pink.

               Apparently, an experiment had gone horribly wrong... or wonderfully right knowing Honey Lemon. A majority of the workspace was colored a bright pink, with a wildly smiling, similarly colored Honey in the center.

               Chuckling to himself as he headed upstairs, Hiro debated what he should tell his other friends in order to lure them over to the café, since it wasn’t even open. He had been ordered by Wasabi to set aside at least one day where he wasn’t required to do anything or to be anywhere.

               He had claimed it would help with stress, a claim backed up by Baymax, and while it was admittedly nice to have a day to himself, most of it was usually spent sleeping or tinkering with prosthetics. Tadashi couldn’t have picked a better day to show up on his doorstep, as he had all day to get things relatively under control. Entering the room, Hiro spotted Tadashi sitting up on the bed, sleepily rubbing at his eyes.

               “Morning, Tadashi.”

               Tadashi blinked owlishly up at Hiro before grinning widely. “Ohayo, Hiro.”

               Suddenly, an idea struck Hiro. Holding out his phone to Tadashi, he asked, “Do you want to do the honors?”

               “The... honors?” Tadashi frowned, baffled at his cryptic statement. “What do you mean?”

               “We’ve got to tell Gogo, Fred, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon that you’re back. Considering they were your friends first, I figured you should call them to tell them the good news and invite them over.” Hiro mentally congratulated himself on his solution to the problem, but Tadashi didn’t look impressed.

               “You do realize I don’t sound anything like I used to, don’t you, knucklehead? And besides, if Gogo answers her phone while driving, she is probably going to cause a wreck.”

               “Oh, please. A call from a friend that has been presumably dead for the last five years and is speaking in the voice of a child isn’t going to cause her to crash.” Hiro paused for a moment to ponder the absurdity of that last statement, but Tadashi wasn’t finished.

               “I didn’t mean from the initial shock. I was referring to a wreck, that she may or may not be a part of, caused by less than legal methods of getting here. Why don’t you just invite them over for lunch?”

               Hiro stared at his brother. It couldn’t be that simple. Hiro looked down at his phone contemplatively as Tadashi went over to his side of the room and started to pull his coat back on.

               “Hey, wait. What are you doing? That thing’s still wet! You’ll get sick.”

               Tadashi looked up at him with his eyebrows drawn together and the beginning of a pout on his face. “But I’m cold.”

               A flash of worry crossed Hiro’s face. It really wasn’t that cold in the room; what if Tadashi had gotten sick overnight? Hiro went over to Baymax’s power station and activated him, demanding that he scan Tadashi again for illness.

               “Tadashi is still in perfect health, Master Hiro.” Tadashi shot Hiro a look, mouthing master? Hiro waved off the question, deciding he’d deal with it later.

               “Okay, Baymax. Whatever you say.” In place of the damp raincoat, Hiro gave Tadashi one of his navy blue hoodies, having to roll up the sleeves multiple times to keep them from falling over his hands.

               While Tadashi busied himself with getting ready for the day, Hiro called each of his friends, knowing that Fred might miss a text message and that they would be more likely to agree to attend if the alternative was to verbally tell him ‘no’. The three that were able agreed to meet up, and Honey Lemon, in between various tangents on what she was working on and how Hiro needed to call her more often, agreed to a video chat within the hour.

               Hiro went downstairs to prepare the lunch he had promised them, mentally kicking himself because yes, it was that easy. Just as he finished draining the pasta, Tadashi wandered in and pulled a chair up to the counter, tugging up his hood and settling his head on folded arms as he watched Hiro bustle around the kitchen.

               “I don’t remember you being that good at this.”

               Hiro automatically knew exactly what his brother was referring to, which was known in the Hamada household as the ‘Hot Wing Debacle of Hiro’s Senior Year’. Needless to say, Hiro had been summarily banned from the kitchen until he could show enough proficiency to not set off every smoke detector on the block.

               “Excuse you, I’m a genius. I figured it out eventually.” Hiro carefully moved the chicken wings to the oven, setting a timer to hopefully prevent a replay of the previous occurrence.

               “Mmm, I smell cooked starch.” Surprisingly, Fred was the first to arrive. “Hey, Hiro, you stuck babysitting or something? We should totally go teach him some ninja moves before his parents come back to get him. It would be the start of our secret ninja army.”                Tadashi started giggling into the crook of his arm while Hiro simply grunted noncommittally, pretending to be absorbed in his task to avoid giving it away before the others arrived. However, Fred was not so easily deterred.

               “So, what’s your name, little guy? What horrendous evil did you commit to get stuck with this guy as your babysitter?” Tadashi was saved from answering as the door to the café swung open dramatically, the attached bells jangling harshly, to reveal a windswept Gogo, holding a biker’s helmet tucked underneath her arm.

               “That food better be ready soon, or I’m going to start eating the merchandise.” Gogo set her helmet on a hook and glanced around the café before popping her gum. “Who’s the kid?”

               Hiro added the butter to the pasta before turning off the heat and glancing in the oven at the wings before responding, “What do you mean? You’ve known him for years.”

               Gogo rolled her eyes, assuming Hiro’s response was nothing more than sarcasm. “Not Fred, the little one. Though I can understand how that could be confusing. Oh, hey Baymax.”

               Hiro gave a silent whisper of gratitude to the med-bot for his excellent timing.

               “Hello, Gogo. Hello, Fred.” Turning to Hiro, he asked, “Should I commence the video chat with Honey Lemon now?”

               “Yeah, that’d be great.” Hiro glanced at the clock above the stove, wondering where Wasabi was- it went against his nature to be late to anything. Almost as if to answer his silent question, a harried Wasabi burst through the doors.

               “Sorry I’m late! An undergrad bumped into my tool table and I had to set everything straight before heading over.”

               “Dude, relax. We just got here. Is wearing your safety goggles on your head a new thing? Do I need to get some?” Fred seemed to seriously consider this idea as Wasabi scrambled to remove them and place them in his messenger bag.

               Tadashi grinned widely against his arm; he had missed this. Hiro struggled to placate Wasabi as he pulled the finished wings out of the oven and began to soak them in sauce.

               “Wasabi, it’s not like you are technically the last person to arrive-“

               “Who’s ‘the last person to arrive’?” Honey Lemon’s voice came from the screen on Baymax’s stomach.

               Hiro laughed, and Tadashi foot started to tap against the stool he was sitting on nervously, energy and apprehension dawning on his tiny features. He kept his head ducked to avoid suspicion.

               “That would be you, Honey Lemon.” Hiro reached for the plates. “How many wings do you want, Tadashi?”

               Tadashi jolted at being so unexpectedly addressed, while the others froze and looked at Hiro, silently questioning his sanity.

               “Just two, Otouto.” He pushed back his hood and reached for the proffered plate.

               “...Wait, what?” Gogo was the first to recover, but Tadashi decided to have a little fun before explaining himself.

               “Well, see, I’m not very hungry, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I trust this bonehead’s cooking.” Tadashi struggled to keep a straight face as Hiro made a noise of mock offense.

               “Just for that, mister, you’re going to have to find your own food from now on.” Hiro pointed the tongs at Tadashi in a manner that would have been threatening if not for the grin fighting to take over his face.

               “Yes, which will be such a hardship, living in a café and all. Whatever shall I do?” The brotherly banter was so familiar, Tadashi forgot for a moment that there were other people in the room attempting to process this rather shocking new development.

               “Hiro, did you clone him? Are you sure it’s not an alien? Maybe the aliens cloned him! What’s my middle name?” Fred’s last rapid fire question was directed at Tadashi as he stared at him, as if trying to read his mind to discern whether he was real or not.

               “Sebastian. I’m not a clone! ...I think.”

               Tadashi looked truly troubled at this thought before Hiro launched into the explanation Tadashi had given him about being pulled as an infant from the burning wreckage of the building he had ‘died’ in. Baymax in turn relayed what he had gathered on his multiple scans of Tadashi, leading Fred to a whole new string of theories. He had gotten past the insistence that Tadashi would have super powers from this occurrence, and was rambling off the list of supernatural creatures he could be such as dragons and the phoenix when Gogo cut him off.

               “So let me get this straight. Tadashi’s back and living as a five year old kid with messed up bones and a temperature issue.” Gogo paused for a second as if considering something, but before Fred could launch into another explanation of why Tadashi had to be a phoenix, she continued, “Is he housebroken?”

               Hiro sputtered at the question, as it seemed to come completely out of the blue. He hadn’t thought of that, but Tadashi answered with a vehement yes, though his face was bright red and he looked like he was beginning to regret not waiting a few more years before seeking them out. Hiro glanced over at Wasabi to see him looking around the café in an increasingly agitated manner as Gogo continued with her line of questioning:

               “Can he read? Can he write? How much does he remember? Do you have clothes that fit him?”

               Trying to avoid answering questions that he didn’t know the answers to, Hiro made the mistake of asking Wasabi what the matter was.

               “This place is not safe for a child! The area under the sink is not locked; he might drink the cleaner! Those knives are the perfect height to pull down on top of him. Is there lead in the paint on the walls? What if he slips down the stairs? What if he walked out the door?”

               Tadashi stared at his friend incredulously as Hiro explained that it was Tadashi, he wasn’t mentally five, and there would be no reason for him to drink the cleaner under the sink.

               “Unbelievable.” Turning towards the screen, hoping to find a relief from the insanity that had taken place, Tadashi discovered why Honey Lemon had been so silent.

               She had gone to get her camera, and was taking pictures of the screen, asking Tadashi to smile and show off the gap in his teeth while rapidly detailing how she was going to book the next flight over and transfer her work station and she was going to make a new scrapbook and take Tadashi to the park and... Tadashi tuned her out, firmly deciding that all of his friends were insane. Awesome, but insane.

               Tadashi’s train of thought was interrupted as he was swept into a bone-crushing hug. Gogo’s voice was strained as she ordered him to “Never do something like that again, you idiot.” Fred and then Wasabi quickly joined her as it turned into a group hug.

               “Aww, no fair! I wanna hug him!” Honey Lemon partially got her wish as Baymax joined the group and Hiro finished it off. It was all very sweet until,

               “Can’t... breathe...”

               Everyone laughed and released Tadashi, as Gogo ruffled his hair with a “Serves you right, punk.”

               “Is no one going to eat the wondrous meal that I slaved over?” Hiro broke the mood and everyone went to grab his or her plates.

               They broke into their separate conversations as Gogo and Fred began quizzing Tadashi on what he should remember, ranging from obscure details from the classes they had shared to Fred’s favorite comic. Not that he had a single favorite, but he was satisfied with the long list Tadashi rambled off between bites of his food. After they had finished eating, Wasabi pulled Hiro slightly to the side.

               “So, how did he take the news about your Aunt Cass?”

               Hiro cursed his brain for having failed him just as Tadashi turned his head sharply towards the pair.

               “What do you mean, ‘about Aunt Cass’? What happened?”

 

Chapter Text

               The café went silent while Hiro performed his best imitation of a deer in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler on a narrow mountain highway. Didn’t Wasabi know that young children heard everything they weren’t supposed to? Hiro’s eyes darted everywhere but his brother’s accusing stare as he tried to come up with the least painful way to put it.

               “Umm...”

               “You haven’t told him?”

               Not helping, Gogo.

               Tadashi was looking increasingly upset; was it getting hotter, or was it just Hiro? The smallest Hamada brother got down off his chair and walked up to Hiro, reaching up and grabbing onto his sleeve while looking up at him, demanding an explanation.

               “Told me what? What’s going on Hiro? Where’s Aunt Cass? I thought she was on a trip or something. Why isn’t she here?” Tears started to brim Tadashi’s eyes even as he tried to stay calm; this used to be so much easier, why couldn’t he keep it together? Abject fear was building inside Tadashi as he started to consider every worst-case scenario, the roar of flames dancing at the front of his mind.

               “Hey, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” Hiro knelt down and pulled Tadashi into a hug, feeling him tremble slightly. “Aunt Cass is just staying at the hospital until she is ready to come home.” He knew it was stretching the truth a bit, but it wasn’t a lie, per se. Tadashi pulled back from the embrace, looking more angry than fearful.

               “I’m not going to break if you tell me what’s going on! Why won’t you just tell me?”

               Hiro sighed. He hadn’t really expected Tadashi to leave it at that, but at least he didn’t look like he was about to fall apart anymore. There was a glint in his brother’s eyes that told Hiro that he wasn’t going to have a choice in what was about to be decided.

               “I want to see her. Take me to the hospital she’s at.”


 

               The group took Wasabi’s van to the hospital, since it was the only mode of transportation big enough for Baymax to squeeze into, and there was no way Hiro was going to let the five year old Tadashi ride on Hiro’s, previously the former’s, bike. The video chat with Honey Lemon had ended with Honey promising to purchase plane tickets and contact her project manager. Fred had gone home, having received a call from his dad, and the team let him go, knowing how rare visits were.

               The ride to the hospital was tense; it was completely quiet except when the silence was broken by an expression of exasperation from Gogo towards Wasabi’s overly cautious driving.

               “We have a child in the backseat, there’s nothing wrong with caution. Does he need to be in a booster seat?”

               “He’ll be fine, Wasabi. At the speed you’re going, the roof and seatbelts could be gone and we would still all be perfectly safe.”

               Tadashi ignored Gogo and Wasabi’s banter, opting to look out the rear window. Baymax had lit up a soft orange and was offering his warmth in comfort, but he was too preoccupied to appreciate it. After Tadashi had threatened to walk by himself to each of the surrounding hospitals if Hiro didn’t take him, Hiro had finally caved and told him most of the story.

               Aunt Cass was in a coma, and though her muscles had atrophied, leaving her looking like a sleeping skeleton, there was still a high chance of recovery if she would just wake up. He had warned that it would likely be a short visit, since there wouldn’t be much chance for meaningful interaction. Tadashi didn’t care, having heard many theories that a coma patient could hear the voices in the room, and he was determined to at least speak with her.

               Wasabi dropped the brothers and Baymax off at the hospital’s front door, going with Gogo to find a parking spot in the crowded parking garage. They would hang back in the waiting area until the brothers were finished, due to the hospital’s limited visitor policy and the need to give the two some privacy with their aunt. 

               Walking up to the check-in desk, Hiro was greeted by the receptionist.

               “Welcome, Mr. Hamada. What can I do for you today?”

               “We’re just here to visit our aunt, in room 214.” At this point, giving them the room number was redundant; Hiro came around often enough for them to know who he was and who he was visiting on sight.

               “Ah, yes. I should have guessed. I’ll ring someone to lead you right away.” Having pressed the buzzer to summon an attendant, the receptionist turned back to the pair. “Who’s this little one? He doesn’t normally come with you.”

               “This is my brother,” Hiro paused, uncertain of what to divulge to this stranger when Tadashi’s very existence was still being worked out. Tadashi solved his dilemma as he reached up, offering his hand to shake to the receptionist.

               “My name’s Tadashi.” The receptionist shook his hand, before a slightly puzzled look came over his face.

               “Now, why does that name seem so familiar?” His train of thought was interrupted as the orderly in charge of 214 arrived to lead them to the room.

               “Right this way.”


 

               Tadashi paused outside the door, trying to mentally prepare himself for what was inside. He tried to convince himself he was being silly, it was just Aunt Cass. He had been in plenty of hospital rooms while developing Baymax, so it wouldn’t be too different from that, right? So why was he so hesitant to enter? Hiro had already entered, and he could faintly hear him telling their aunt that he had brought a visitor. That was his cue; it was time to go in.

               Taking a deep, if shaky, breath, Tadashi reached up to the door handle and let himself in with Baymax’s semi-comforting presence following after. He kept his gaze on the floor as he made his way over to where Hiro stood next to the bed.

               Hiro chuckled, trying to break the atmosphere, “No need to be shy, say hello.”

               Tadashi wasn’t being shy, and he wasn’t scared of his aunt, but rather scared for her, as if one less person seeing the state she was in would make her situation less true. He guessed Hiro was just trying to give him an impetus to start talking. He lifted his gaze to the form on the bed, and his voice caught in his throat even though he had prepared for this; he had expected this. It was eerie seeing the way her frail bones rose and fell with each breath, the way she lay so still, her hair fanned out against the pillow as if it hadn’t been disturbed since her head had last been lain there.

               While the medical side of his mind was taking note of her ability to perform involuntary tasks on her own and the benefit of having a room in which she was next to a window, the more personal side of his mind was struggling to match this Cass with the one that had shown up in his memories. She had always been lively, zipping from table to table at the café, when she was making sure she had everything in stock for the upcoming week’s business, or even when she was lecturing or talking about the latest occurrence in the shop, she was prone to gesticulate, her arms doing half of the speaking for her. Tadashi cleared his throat and tried again to address her.

               “Hey, Aunt Cass. It’s me, Tadashi. I’m back. I know I don’t sound the same, but it’s me, honest. I found Hiro, and he’s taking good care of me, though his wings aren’t near as good as yours are...” Tadashi’s voice broke on this last word, the tears in his eyes threatening to well over. Hiro noticed an orange sheen cover Tadashi’s eyes as he held back the tears, and prompted him to continue speaking. Before he could, however, Baymax interrupted him.

               “Hiro, look.”

               Hiro glanced over to see Baymax pointing at the readout on a particular screen, the one monitoring brain wave activity. The line that had been nothing but a series of shallow waves for the past year had spiked around the time that Tadashi had started speaking to her, but was quickly returning to its previous state.

               “Tadashi, keep talking.” Hiro kept his eyes glued to the machine while Tadashi began again.

               “Um, I got to see the gang again. They were all rather shocked, but took it rather well. We got an impromptu child safety inspection courtesy of Wasabi, which we didn’t pass, but it’s okay since I’m not actually a child...”

               As Tadashi continued to recount the events of his short return, Hiro watched as Cass mentally responded as her brain waves moved from a deep dreamless state to one of mental imagery, and held there. It wasn’t consciousness, but it was the longest sustained reaction they had received during the totality of her time in the hospital.

               “-Wasabi still drives like a retired police officer, but on the way here he actually ran a yellow light instead of slamming on his brakes.” Tadashi paused, having run out of things to say for the time being. “I guess I’ve taken enough of your time, but I’ll be back soon, and I’ll keep coming back until you decide to wake up and come home.”

               Tadashi turned to Hiro, who joined him and said his own goodbyes to their aunt, his eyes still on the monitor as the following silence allowed it to return to the dreamless state. The trio left the room and followed the orderly back to the waiting room where Gogo was popping her gum and Wasabi had taken it upon himself to alphabetize the magazine selection, muttering to himself as he did.

               “Home and Gardens is an ‘H’ and will go right after Health and—Oh! Hey guys, how’d it go?”

               On their way out, Hiro explained the phenomenon that had occurred with increasing excitement, reaching for his phone to text Fred and Honey Lemon the news. Scrolling through his messages, he laughed.

               “Unbelievable. Looks like Honey Lemon is catching a flight in a couple hours and will be here early tomorrow morning- 1 a.m. early. Looks like somebody missed you, Tadashi.”

               The entire group was going to be in one town again, granted Fred didn’t disappear with his dad like he sometimes did. Wasabi had a project to get back to, but after dropping the brothers, Gogo, and Baymax off at the café, he promised to meet them at the airport around midnight to meet Honey Lemon.

               Gogo offered to stick around and hang out, but Hiro declined, thinking of the paperwork he still needed to work through with Tadashi, and made a similar agreement to meet at the airport. Gogo said she would let Fred know about the meeting, and she was out the door with her bike helmet under her arm.

               Back upstairs, the Hamada brothers debated the merits of reinstating Tadashi’s old identity versus creating a new one. Tadashi was determined to resume his old life with as little change as possible, though he recognized the difficulties with that course of action. He absolutely refused to start over completely, which Hiro had expected from the beginning, even if it made things more difficult.

               Making up his mind, Hiro first made a copy of the incomplete forms, in case they needed to change, then filled out one set with Tadashi’s original identity. They could deal with the problems as they came, and not stress about them before. Realizing it was going to be a late night if they were going to meet Honey Lemon, the brothers decided to sleep and have a late dinner before heading to the airport.


 

               Despite the long flight, Honey Lemon was practically glowing with excitement as she rushed to the baggage claim, her dark blue carry-on bag slung over one shoulder. Her favorite red and yellow one had pulled a disappearing act when she was packing, but this one served its purpose. The other one would likely show up when the rest of her stuff was shipped to her, and she hadn’t wanted to waste time searching.

               The flight had arrived earlier than planned, but her friends would be there soon, and she would get to see Tadashi! Five years of believing her dear friend was dead, and his sudden reappearance was almost too good to be true. If she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes… Preoccupied with her thoughts, Honey Lemon’s shoulder collided roughly with someone she tried to pass on her way to get her luggage.

               “Oh, I’m terribly sorry.” She had picked up a British accent during her time away, so she realized she probably sounded like a rude tourist, rather than a rushed local. Golden-hazel eyes looked up at her blearily, as if he hadn’t even noticed; clearly some people suffered from jet lag more than others.

               “Hm? Oh, it’s fine.”

               Honey barely heard him, as she had already continued on her way to the baggage area by the time he’d spoken up. She glanced over the display, discovering that she had gone to the area for connecting flights from London, whereas she had flown straight through and wasn’t planning on going any further.

               Spinning on her heel, she headed back the other way, only to feel another collision and a sharp sting on her upper arm. In an overwhelming bout of dizziness, in which her arm and, soon after, her neck, numbly locked into place, she felt her bag slide off her shoulder as an arm guided her to a seat, before disappearing.

               Blinking as the dizziness faded and she regained sensations in her arm and neck, she looked around to see that both her bag and the person she had run into were gone. She checked for the small, thin bag under her jacket that she kept her passport, cell phone, and cards in and was relieved to find it still present.

               Slightly shaken, but not unable to function, Honey Lemon made her way over to the proper baggage claim and reported the robbery before gathering her own luggage and heading towards the meeting gate. Things like this weren’t too uncommon, though she personally had never experienced it before; she had been prepared from a young age to keep the truly valuable things close to her person and hidden. Putting it out of her mind as best she could, she smiled at the sight of Wasabi, punctual as always, waiting for her, with Hiro and a little Tadashi making their way towards him from the door.

               Squealing slightly, Honey Lemon made a run for them, smothering Tadashi in hug to the amusement of the others.

               “Hey, don’t I get a hug?” Hiro jokingly chimed in.

               Honey Lemon distributed an equally exuberant hug to both Hiro and Wasabi, before turning to give one to Gogo as she walked through the door.

               “Hello to you too.” Gogo humored her, despite the surprise on her face.

               Wasabi took note of the single suitcase. “Travelling light, are we?”

               “Well, most of it is going to be shipped to where I’m staying, since there was no feasible way to bring everything I needed with me in one trip. I had another bag, but it got lifted and-“

               “Wait, wait. You got stolen from?” Hiro looked like he was ready to lock down and search the entire airport to recover her property. The others had equally worried and determined faces, but she was quick to dissuade them.

               “Really, it’s fine. I didn’t even like the bag and I just had some clothes, a book, and... oh. My camera was in there.” She paused for a second to mourn its loss, but quickly returned to her line of reasoning, “Everything can be replaced, and it isn’t like I even saw who it was. It’s been reported, and that’s all there is to be done about it right now.”

               The others grudgingly accepted this, but Tadashi was still confused.

               “How did they even get the bag from you? It’s not like you to just leave your stuff somewhere.”

               When she described the sharp pain, they checked under her sleeve for an injury, and sure enough, there was a small, round bruise, reminiscent of an injection site, with a small amount of blood.

               “Ugh, I wish we’d brought along Baymax. I could’ve had him scan it for traces of anything. By the time we get back, it’ll probably be too faint to identify.” Hiro frowned at this, knowing that there wasn’t anything they could do at the moment. “Looks like we’ll just have to keep an eye out for anything.”

               “What are we keeping an eye out for?” Fred had finally arrived, and after getting his welcome hug, was filled in on what had happened. “Why do I miss the fun stuff?”

               The team laughed at him and headed back to their vehicles to meet up at the café for late night hot chocolate. By the time they’d arrived, a quick scan of Honey Lemon revealed nothing foreign in her systems. It was as if it had never happened.


 

               Back-alley litter danced across the concrete in the bitter November air, skirting around two figures, one significantly larger than the other and rifling through a dark bag, tossing most of its contents into the alley floor.

               "Now, what have I told you about stealing from the locals, Jadoku? You know that wasn’t your job." The obscenely large man smirked, unconcerned with the senselessness of his restrictions. He was allowed to ask whatever he wished of whomever he wished, as his position afforded him the power to do so. “What makes you think you’re above my rules?”

               The smaller figure hesitated, considering how he should respond.

               "I swear it wasn't on purpose... she sure didn't sound like she was from around here, and—" Brushing dark red bangs out of his face was a nervous habit he knew better than to do in front of the larger man, but a habit was just that. He barely suppressed a cringe when he realized that his fear had been noticed with a cruel and annoyingly superior grin from the other man. "She won't do anything about it... she can't. The paralysis kept her from even seeing me, and it's not as if the bag had anything she'll miss."

               "And that's supposed to be a good thing?" The larger man held a couple of crumpled twenties and a relatively expensive camera in his hands, all other items tossed in the street like garbage. "I suppose I could make a couple hundred off this camera, with the right person, but you know I expect much more. Especially from someone as supposedly capable as you."

               He began to flip through the pictures in the camera, taking sick amusement in the younger man's nervousness as he awaited his fate. He took his time, deleting them one by one. He paused as he came to one in particular, frowning momentarily before chuckling sinisterly.

               "Well, would you look at that? See, I never forget a face, especially one who has taken something from me." The picture in question was one in which an older Hiro was looking fondly at a young boy, possibly around kindergarten age, who was smiling up at him. The two were strikingly similar, in a way that only family could be. "Two years is a long time to spend off the streets, and it seems like little 'Zero' has something to compensate me with." Further pictures only solidified the idea in his mind, and the rusted mental cogs began to turn.

               He abruptly held out a single twenty to the smaller figure, who startled, but quickly accepted the proffered bill. It wasn't much, but it was better than the alternative.

               "I'll let you off with a warning for now. But Jadoku," the larger figure paused, knowing that silence was a worse threat than any he could verbalize. "Be sure to pick your marks better next time."

               Golden eyes glinted in the streetlight as they glanced away from the mountain of a man, before they were hidden completely by red hair as the smaller figure, Jadoku, politely bowed, tension echoing across his shoulders.

               "Of course, Yama."

Chapter Text

               Hiro would have loved to sleep in. He had no qualms about opening up the café an hour or two later than normal, considering the “early crowd” on Sundays consisted of a single person, who would return later in the day for afternoon coffee. He didn’t even need the money. There was no conceivable reason he would drag himself out of bed at eight in the blinking morning. Except...

               “Hiro! You have to get up! Honey Lemon said she’d be here soon, and you aren’t even out of bed!”

               Some things never change. Hiro was glad that at least Tadashi couldn’t pick him up anymore; otherwise he’d probably be dangling by his ankles at this point.

               “Mhmm, that’s good to know.” Burying his face deeper into his pillow in an attempt to block out both light and noise and try to get back to sleep, Hiro mentally calculated the absolute latest he could stay in bed and still have time to get ready before she arrived. This pillow trick really worked, he couldn’t even hear Tadashi anymore.

               Wait.

               “Augh!” Hiro spluttered, shooting upright.

            There was water everywhere. He was completely drenched, at least the parts of him not covered by the blanket. Pushing the soaking wet (and freezing) covers to the foot of the bed, Hiro glared at Tadashi, who had one of the most innocently evil smiles on his face and the handle to a now empty bucket in his hands.

               “It’s time to get out of bed.” Tadashi said in a singsong voice, looking far too pleased with himself. Thinking fast, Hiro looked down at his drenched sleep shirt and then at Tadashi, opening his arms wide and advancing.

               “Of course. But first, give your big brother a good-morning hug.”

               Tadashi had not thought this through. Abandoning the bucket, he turned to make a speedy getaway, but collided with Baymax.

               “I heard a sound of: distress. I will now scan for injuries.”

               “Baymax, move-ah!“ Tadashi found that his feet were no longer on the ground and could feel icy cold water soaking through the back of his shirt.

               “Scan complete. There are no signs of injury, but your body temperatures are low.” Yes, thank you, Baymax.

               “My own little teddy bear of warmth.” Meanwhile, Hiro was quite happy with his plan of attack; Tadashi was warmer than Baymax, though not as squishy.

               “Let go! You’re freezing!” Tadashi tried to unwrap Hiro’s arms from his front, but to no avail. Being child-sized definitely had its downfalls. Hiro just laughed at him.

               “And whose fault is that?”

               “Yours, bonehead! For not getting up when you were supposed to!”

               Hiro finally relented, placing a now partially soaked Tadashi back on the floor. Baymax returned to his charging station, having ascertained that there were no injuries to attend to.

               “Oh, don’t pout. You wore that yesterday.” Hiro turned and started rummaging through his dresser for a decent shirt.

               “It’s not like I have anything else to wear, genius.” Tadashi glared up at him, shivering slightly to regain lost warmth.

               Hiro paused and dropped his forehead to the top of the dresser. He knew he had forgotten something. It wasn’t as if the last few days hadn’t been eventful, but this was kind of important. He was the absolute worst brother ever. But he would fix it.

               Rummaging through the various drawers on his dresser with a renewed vigor, he searched for anything that was remotely close to Tadashi’s new size, or at least something that wouldn’t slide off him the minute he put it on. Finding the smallest shirt he owned that he had shrunk in the wash (doing your own laundry is difficult), Hiro offered it to a nearly dry Tadashi, who grudgingly swapped it with the one he was currently wearing. The result was downright comical.

               “Where’s a camera when you need one?” Hiro laughed as Tadashi tried, and failed, to get the shirt to sit properly on him.

               By pulling on the neckline, he got it to stay on his shoulders, but otherwise it completely swamped him; the sleeves went down past his elbows, and the hem nearly reached his knees. He reached for the shirt he had been wearing, having set it down when he changed, but Hiro was faster.

               “Nope.” Hiro lifted it above his head, far out of Tadashi’s limited reach. “I can’t have you wearing wet clothes, you could get sick.”

               Hiro’s grin belied his supposedly good intentions. Just as Tadashi jumped for the shirt, the Hamada brothers heard the doorbell. Honey Lemon had said she was coming over. Honey Lemon was downstairs and Hiro was still in his soaked nightclothes.

               “Go get the door!” Hiro turned and grabbed the first shirt he saw in the drawer, struggling into it.

               Tadashi started down the stairs, hoping his brother wouldn’t notice he had put his shirt on backwards in his rush to dress before he headed down to meet them. Tadashi reached up and opened the door to see Honey Lemon looking through her purse, most likely for her cell phone.

               “Oh, good. I was just about to call—awww! You look adorable!”

               Tadashi was momentarily confused until he looked down and remembered he was still wearing the too-big shirt. Looking back to Honey Lemon, a bright flash of light filled his vision and he heard the artificial sound of a camera shutter clicking from her cell phone.

               “Ah! I’m blind! I’ve been blinded!” Furiously scrubbing at his eyes, even though he knew it wouldn’t actually help, Tadashi waited for the bright purple spots to fade from his vision. Honey Lemon giggled at his theatrics as they headed up the stairs to the living area, just as Hiro came down the stairs from the brothers’ shared room.

               “Why is Tadashi screaming about being blind?”

               “Oh, I didn’t turn the flash off on my phone’s camera, and he looked right up into it as I took a picture.” Honey Lemon paused, “Is there a reason your shirt’s on backwards?”

               Tadashi laughed into his hand as Hiro checked the inside collar of his shirt, and sure enough, it was on backwards. Hiro turned and went back up the stairs, leaving a “thanks, Tadashi” in his wake.

               “So you noticed too? I’m guessing it was before you let me in.”

               “I had to answer the door.” Tadashi’s grin perfectly matched the one Hiro constantly showed whenever a prank went correctly. Honey Lemon had to physically restrain herself from reaching for her cell phone to take another picture. “Besides, it’s his fault I have to wear this ridiculous shirt.”

               Honey Lemon listened intently as Tadashi detailed the earlier events of the morning, laughing at the brothers’ antics. When Tadashi got to the part about not having another shirt to change into, Honey Lemon got a thoughtful look on her face. Hiro came back downstairs, properly attired this time, just as Honey Lemon came to a conclusion.

               “Hiro, while I’m watching Tadashi today, can I take him shopping? I need to buy a new camera anyway, and he just said he needs some new clothes.”

               Tadashi looked up in alarm. Shopping was okay; shopping was useful; shopping was necessary. Clothes shopping with Honey Lemon meant being barricaded in a dressing room until he changed into whatever she had thrown over the door, coming out, and having his picture taken. Repeatedly. Tadashi looked to his brother, who merely grinned, tossing his wallet to her.

               “Sure, why not? Be sure to take lots of pictures for me.”

               Traitor.

               Honey Lemon caught the wallet, but immediately offered it back. “You know I can cover it, I don’t need this.”

               “He’s my brother, take it anyway. I can’t force you, but...” Hiro shrugged, gesturing at it.

               Tadashi reached out and took the wallet, slipping it into his own pocket, ending the debate.

               “Thanks, Otouto.”

               “But- I- That’s- ugh, whatever. Just don’t lose it.”


 

               After donning his winter jacket, Tadashi joined Honey Lemon in her rental car and they were off to the local mall. Their first stop was BestBuy, where Honey Lemon picked out a brand new camera while Tadashi roamed the store. Nothing really caught his interest, but he was delaying the inevitable with something he at least enjoyed. He wasn’t paying enough attention to his surroundings to stop in time when a person stepped out in front of him from a side aisle.

               “Oof,” Backing off and looking up, Tadashi stammered a quick apology to uninterested golden eyes, just as Honey Lemon spotted them and walked over. “S-sorry.”

               “Just watch where you’re going next time, kid.” Exasperation colored his tone and he turned to continue on his way as Honey Lemon reached them.

               “I’m so sorry about that,” Honey Lemon took a closer look before laughing, “I don’t believe it. I remember you. I ran into you at the airport, how’ve you been?”

               The guy looked confused and almost scared for a moment, eyebrows drawing together before he relaxed and laughed as well, pushing some red strands of hair back off of his face.

               “Oh, yeah. You’re that British girl who nearly knocked me over from behind. How anyone has that much energy after getting off a flight is beyond me.” An easy grin settled on his face, though Tadashi thought he detected something false, or at least strained in it.

               “Sorry about that. Again.” Honey Lemon smiled apologetically. “I’m Honey Lemon, and this little guy is Tadashi. And I’m not actually British, I’ve just been away for a while.”

               “Hm, could have had me fooled. I’m Kyouji, uh- Kyouji Shakuzai.”

               “That’s an unfortunate name,” she remarked jokingly. Surely it wasn’t that translation, but the idea was amusing and she was a sucker for wordplay.

               Kyouji merely grinned again, that same, strange smile. “This is coming from someone named ‘Honey Lemon’?”

               She didn’t bother to correct him concerning her original name, instead turning to Tadashi, who had started to pull on her sleeve.

               “Can we go now?” Earlier he would have delayed for as long as possible before moving on to the clothing, but something about Kyouji just seemed... off.

               “Oh, right. We’ve got a busy day ahead of us.” Turning back to Kyouji, Honey Lemon smiled, “It was nice seeing you again. Maybe we’ll run into you again sometime.”

               Kyouji laughed dryly at her choice of words. “Please don’t. I dunno how much more of that I can take from the two of you.”

               The three parted ways, and Tadashi and Honey Lemon went to the checkout area where Honey Lemon paid for and then assembled her new camera, looping the strap around her neck.

               “All right, I’m all set. Now, where should we go first?” Honey Lemon glanced around, a spark in her eyes.

               Tadashi knew from experience that she wasn’t actually asking his opinion, and resigned himself to whatever she would pick out for him.

 


 

               “I thought there used to be an Earthbound here.” Tadashi looked puzzled, glancing at the nearby shops to try and reorient himself.

               “There was. It went out of business a couple of years ago, so there’s a GAP here now.” Honey Lemon was already rifling through a rack, picking out a shirt or two and holding it out against Tadashi to figure out his size. It didn’t take her long to determine it, and then she started stacking shirts on her arm.

               “But I liked Earthbound. They had really cool stuff and you could play with the hermit crabs.”

               “You and Fred just liked to play with the katanas at the back of the store.”

               “That too.”

               Tadashi balked at the sheer number of shirts and pants that Honey Lemon already had on her arm. Apparently deciding it was enough for now, or at least as much as she could carry, Honey Lemon herded Tadashi to a dressing room, setting the pile inside and graciously telling Tadashi to pick out only the ones he liked to show her. After the door closed, Tadashi began to sift through the towering pile.

               “Nope. Nope. Maybe. Never happening. This one’s good.” He continued like this until he had hung up all of the rejects and had a much smaller pile of shirts and jeans. After trying on the shirts, discarding a few because of their feel, he had narrowed it down to seven sets of clothing to try on. Just as he pulled the first outfit on, Honey Lemon knocked on the door.

               “The pile didn’t fall on you, did it?” she called, concerned because Tadashi had been quiet after his initial assessments.

               “No. Just a second, I’m almost ready.” Getting his arm the rest of the way through his sleeve, Tadashi reached for the door handle and stepped out. He had picked out a fairly conservative long sleeve shirt and pair of jeans that he felt comfortable in, though he would have preferred the shirt in green or yellow rather than blue.

               “Oh, you look so cute. Okay, hold still and smile.” Thank goodness she remembered to turn off the flash in the well-lit room this time.

               This process continued for each of the outfits he chose for himself, and Tadashi’s cheeks started to hurt from the constant wide smiles Honey Lemon insisted on for the pictures. For the last set, he was already back in his original jeans, having decided that trying on essentially the same pair of pants over and over was tiring, so he didn’t bother to close the door as he went to change back into the shirt Hiro had given him that morning. Glancing in the mirror, Tadashi caught a glimpse of a worried and protective look come over Honey Lemon’s face.

               “Tadashi... What happened to your back?”

               “What are you talking about?” Tadashi turned so he could see his own back in the mirror, surprised at what he found. “I have no idea. It doesn’t feel different.”

               There, just inside his shoulder blades, were two parallel vertical lines of what looked like charred skin. However, when he reached back to poke at them, he could feel the touch, whereas if it had been burnt, he knew would have been unable to. Shrugging, he pulled on his shirt and then his jacket.

               “I promise it doesn’t hurt, and I don’t remember anything that could have caused it.”

               Honey Lemon didn’t look convinced, but didn’t push it, opting instead to gather up the clothes Tadashi had picked out and go with him to the register. She would tell Hiro later, if he didn’t already know. On the way to the register, she spotted a bumblebee striped hoodie and added it to the pile, deciding Tadashi would look adorable if she could get him to wear it.

               After checking out, Tadashi breathed a sigh of relief that was short-lived as Honey Lemon announced:

               “Okay, on to the next store!”

 


 

               Hiro was wiping down a table after the lunch crowd when he heard his phone go off. Checking his messages, he found a large number of pictures that Honey Lemon had taken throughout the day, from a particular outfit Tadashi had tried on that she had found absolutely perfect, to images from the food court they’d had lunch at.

               Smiling to himself as he scrolled through them, Hiro responded to the message at the bottom that had been written by Tadashi, asking for their cell phone carrier’s information so he could get his own phone. Hiro decided it would be a good idea for him to have one in case he ever needed to get a hold of him or his friends, though he knew Tadashi would probably completely remake any phone he bought in order to meet his preferences.

               Glancing around the shop, Hiro determined that he would have some time before the next customers needed his attention. He settled down in a chair to answer emails from prospective companies interested in his prosthetic tech while waiting for Tadashi and Honey Lemon to come back.

 

Chapter Text

               Thank goodness they were nearly done.

               Tadashi didn’t think he’d had this many outfits at any previous point in his entire existence. He had tried to limit it by being much pickier than he actually was, turning down anything that wasn’t soft enough or if the color was off, but it was useless. Once Honey Lemon set her sights on a particular store, there was no leaving until he picked something. Honey Lemon took it as a personal challenge if he claimed nothing caught his eye, but thankfully didn’t try to insist on getting him something he turned down.

               Despite that, he didn’t remember agreeing to a particular bumblebee hoodie, but he couldn’t be too sure; the outfits and stores were beginning to blend together in his mind. Tadashi had severely underestimated the number of shops that sold clothing in this place. His previous self’s observational skills must have been sorely lacking, unless more had opened up in the time he’d been… gone.

               Considering how many pictures Honey Lemon had taken, Tadashi had to wonder if she’d purchased some sort of super memory card for her camera. It made sense to take pictures of the outfits, but he would catch her snapping a few here and there as he went through clothes on a rack, or when some well-meaning lady came up and asked if he needed help reaching something.

               If he really wanted something, he would just ask Honey Lemon. He’d rather not have a repeat of earlier, when jumping for a particular item had resulted in an unstable clothing rack, and every single shirt hung on it, falling on top of him. He hadn’t been injured, thankfully, but the huge mess it made was embarrassing enough without Honey Lemon (after worriedly making sure he was okay) bursting into giggles and taking a quick series of photos. Once the shock and initial embarrassment wore off, Tadashi himself started laughing. He could just imagine how ridiculous he looked.

               Thankfully, that fiasco hadn’t ended with them being booted out of the store. According to Honey Lemon, Tadashi had used his “utter adorableness” to get out of trouble, but Tadashi didn’t know what she was talking about. All he did was apologize and offer to help put the clothes back when the semi-angry cashier came to fix the mess. He hadn’t done anything in particular to cause the anger to flee her expression, and he certainly hadn’t been expecting the pat on the head nor the insistence that he not worry about it. 

               Even all of that had been less embarrassing than what he went through at another store across the way. Everything had been fine until they approached the register, where the teenager running it had complimented Honey on her ‘cute son’. Honey Lemon had laughed it off and amiably corrected the cashier, but Tadashi had been completely thrown for a loop. After leaving, since he didn’t want to embarrass the cashier more, Tadashi protested the assumption to a highly amused Honey Lemon.

               “We don’t even look alike!”

               “Adoption is pretty popular now-a-days,” Honey Lemon tried to reason.

               “But still!”

     


         

               When Tadashi was certain he would be unable to walk any further, and was seriously considering just sitting down and waiting for Honey Lemon to notice that he was no longer trailing behind her, she had graciously announced that they were stopping for lunch. Though he wasn’t a huge fan of traditional fast food, “You don’t even know what’s in most of that stuff,” he wouldn’t have turned down anything the food court had to offer at that point.

               Honey Lemon had struggled to deposit all of the bags she had been carrying, which led to yet another offer by Tadashi to carry a couple for her. Once again, the offer was turned down, since Honey Lemon thought it went against some moral code to make a five year old carry his own clothes when shopping. Tadashi’s insistence that it didn’t matter if said boy offered, and was realistically 24, went ignored as their order was announced as ready, and Honey Lemon went to pick it up.

               After they finished eating and Tadashi had gotten the phone company’s information from Hiro, Honey Lemon finally agreed that they were probably done clothes shopping for the day. (As long as nothing ‘caught her eye,’ that is.) They made a quick stop to get Tadashi’s new phone, which Tadashi happily paid for with the contents of Hiro’s wallet, and were on their way out when they noticed a familiar shock of black and purple hair in the hardware section of a department store.

               “Hey, Gogo,” Tadashi greeted. “Whatcha looking at?”

               Gogo pulled a set of different sized wrenches off of the wall before turning to the pair, looking highly amused at the sight of an overburdened Honey Lemon and a small Tadashi who was still in the far too large shirt.

               “Just grabbing some new wrenches. I seem to have misplaced a few.”

               “You really shouldn’t throw them when they don’t work miracles the way you want them to.” Tadashi grinned, remembering the issues that particular reaction had caused in the past. He wondered if the students who’d had to completely recalibrate their machine in the middle of finals week had forgiven her yet.

               “Meh, they’re cheap. Wasabi and I were doing some early gift shopping anyway. I’d rather not fight the last-second shoppers come ‘official’ holiday season.” Gogo popped her gum and pulled another set off of the wall, comparing the two. “He’s over there in the gardening section getting some mulch. Do you think he realizes he’s just buying bags of dirt?”

               “This isn’t just dirt,” Wasabi had picked that moment to wander over, brushing particles off of his sweater with one hand while the other held the basket containing a couple bags of mulch. “There are nutrients in this that are essential to the proper growth of plants without relying on weed killers or pesticides.”

               Gogo, having decided between the two wrench sets, turned and headed towards the checkout area. ”Okay, now that Wasabi’s got his special dirt, where were you guys headed next?”

               “It’s not—“ Wasabi was summarily ignored.

                Honey Lemon smiled apologetically back at Wasabi. ”Well, I need to drop off these bags in the car if we are planning on doing anything more. My arms are killing me.”

               ”If you would just let me carry some—“ Tadashi tried again.

               ”So, if he could hang with you for a bit, I’ll be right back. Wasabi, I’ll take your stuff too. Take plenty of pictures!” Honey Lemon had barely received an affirmative nod from Wasabi before shoving the camera into Gogo’s hands and disappearing to deposit the clothes and mulch in their vehicle.

               “Well, that happened.” Gogo slipped her new wrenches and the camera into her backpack before grabbing Tadashi’s hand and practically dragging him back to the main portion of the mall. “There’s a toy store around here somewhere, and don’t even try to say you don’t want to go.”

               Tadashi turned slightly worried eyes to Wasabi, who very helpfully shrugged and trailed along behind them as Gogo led them to what had to be the biggest emporium of toys Tadashi had ever seen.

               “I definitely don’t remember this being here.”

              


 

               Honey Lemon arrived back after having texted Gogo for their whereabouts to find the group raiding the Lego section of the store, some more gleefully than others. As Tadashi was trying to balance another 5000-piece spaceship set in the basket, Gogo was already calling him over to look at another one. Wasabi had stopped commenting on the choking hazard when Tadashi reminded him of the sheer number of robots and parts Hiro left lying around on a regular basis and assured him that he had felt no urge to attempt to shove them in his mouth. Wishing she had her proper camera on hand for the candid shot, Honey Lemon snapped a picture with her phone instead.

               “I see you guys have been keeping busy.” Honey Lemon then received her camera from Gogo, frowning slightly when she found no new ones within. She should’ve handed it off to Wasabi…

               Unaware of Honey Lemon’s disappointment, Gogo decided Tadashi had a sufficient amount of Legos, and moved on to the wheels section.

               “Okay, what size shoes do you wear now? We need to get you some roller blades.” Gogo paused for a second, “And maybe a bike. Though I’d rather just make you one myself.”

               Tadashi looked mildly terrified at the prospect of using a Gogo-made bike, but another issue was more prevalent in his mind as he offered one of his shoes to Gogo, having failed to locate a size on them.

               “I- I don’t think I know how.”

               “Nonsense, you never forget how to ride a bike.”

               “Well, maybe,” Tadashi conceded, shifting from one foot to the other. “But that wasn’t what I meant. I don’t know how to rollerblade…”

               “Not a big deal, I’ll teach you.” Gogo held the bottom of the shoe to the sizing ruler, moving towards the skates themselves once she had a size. “Heck, Wasabi’s not that great at it, and he doesn’t have your excuse.”

               Wasabi rolled his eyes, muttering about liking to have his feet firmly on the ground. It made Tadashi feel marginally better, which was her intention all along.

               Finally picking out some red and white inline skates, since standard skates were too slow and unwieldy according to Gogo, they decided to call it a day. They were on their way to the register when Honey Lemon reappeared, startling Tadashi, who hadn’t noticed her slip away in the first place, holding a medium sized white plush bear.

               “Here, hold this!” Passing it over to Tadashi, she took a quick picture of him holding it. “I saw it, and I had to grab it for you.”

               Tadashi didn’t mind, it was the perfect size to wrap his arms around, and though it wasn’t as nice as Baymax, he could carry it around wherever he liked. No one would look down too much on a five year old with a stuffed animal, and it was a nice physical comfort he wasn’t used to having around.

               Burying his face in the stuffed animal, he muttered a thank you to Honey Lemon, and they continued to the register. Passing Hiro’s wallet to Wasabi to pay, Tadashi quickly explained how he had come in possession of it, causing Gogo and Wasabi to laugh briefly.

                As they were walking out towards the parking lot, Gogo exclaimed in exasperation.

               “Seriously? It’s not even the week before Thanksgiving yet, and they already have Christmas stuff up. I mean, Christmas is fine, but really, people?” Gogo poked the inflatable Santa as they passed by. “This is ridiculous.”

               “Wal-Mart had Christmas stuff the day after Halloween,” Honey Lemon reminded her, shrugging. “They’re just trying to increase sales.”

               “Yeah, but I bet if I went in there and tried to wish them a Merry Christmas this early in November, they’d correct me… or at least pull a face when they think I’m not looking.” Gogo slowed her steps, glancing in the store.

               “At least Christmas is mainstream. You should see the looks I get when I offer someone a ‘Joyous Kwanzaa,’ even on the right days.” Wasabi grinned ruefully, shaking his head. “Some people get so defensive when you’re just wishing them well. If they don’t celebrate my particular holiday, which… they probably don’t, I’m cool with them just responding with the holiday they do celebrate, or the generic ‘Happy Holidays’. No need to be like that.”

               Wasabi had obviously mulled over this before, and Tadashi had to wonder how many times it had actually been an issue.

               “I’m just glad you observe Christmas gift-giving too, so I can get a present out of you,” Gogo teased, having caught back up to the group, popping gum that Tadashi didn’t recall her having a couple of moments ago.

               “Is that all our friendship is worth to you?” Wasabi’s exaggerated look of mock offense had Tadashi stifling giggles, Honey Lemon joining him soon after. Gogo managed to keep a straight face long enough to respond.

               “Ah!” Gogo smacked her hand to her own forehead, “I wasn’t supposed to tell you until after the holidays. Just forget everything I said.”

               “Nope, it’s too late. Our friendship is beyond repair.” Wasabi reached out and pulled Tadashi close, acting as if he was going to walk off with him. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Tadashi. Women just can’t be trusted with our fragile emotions.”

               Tadashi patted his arm in a sympathetic manner. “There, there. It’ll be all right.” The comforting image was incomplete, however, since Tadashi had been unable to reign in his laughter.

               Gogo rolled her eyes at the display, barely concealing a grin at Wasabi’s antics. “Oh, woman up!”



               Having taken their separate vehicles back to the café, the group encountered a harried-looking Hiro attempting to stop a particular coffee machine from spraying everywhere while simultaneously trying to contain the mess it was making as he tried to fix it. Thankfully, the café was empty at the moment.

               “Just turn off, you piece of— Oh, hey guys.” Hiro had one hand full of wadded up napkins, the other tapping the touch screen rapidly in vain.

               Wasabi quickly made his way over after placing the bags he was carrying in the doorway, and an extra pair of hands allowed the problem to be sorted out much quicker. That, and the plug could then be reached without making too much of a mess when the machine was pulled away from the wall.

               “Thanks. I swear that thing is possessed or something.” Hiro finally took notice of the numerous shopping bags as he tossed the soaked napkins into the trash. “So, what’d you end up getting?”

               Honey Lemon rambled on about the outfits she and Tadashi had picked out, showing pictures to Hiro while Gogo and Wasabi helped carry the bags up the stairs to the living area. They stacked the Lego boxes in a corner, and helped Tadashi put away his clothes. Rather, Gogo would throw some in a drawer and Wasabi would come behind her and fold them, muttering to himself about wrinkles while Tadashi sat on the bed holding his new bear. They clearly did not want or need his help at the moment, especially since his side of the room was so cramped anyway.

               Once everything was put away, Gogo grabbed the rollerblades and the three of them headed back downstairs. They would have to wait, however, before doing anything, as Hiro was busy dealing with the afternoon crowd by the time they arrived. Wishing them a quick goodbye, Honey Lemon rushed out the door, having to leave in order to take care of the supplies that had arrived from England for her lab. Wasabi followed quickly after, needing to hurry if he was going to make it to his afternoon class that had just informed him that it was not in fact, canceled.

               Now alone with the young Tadashi, Gogo waited somewhat impatiently for a lull in the activity, finally grabbing her chance and addressing Hiro behind the counter.

               “Hey, I’m gonna take Tadashi to go roller skating.”

               Hiro was busy putting together someone’s order, but paused to look up at her, wondering about the intelligence of that suggestion.

               “Take Baymax with you,” he said warily. This spelled trouble, but he couldn’t exactly go with them, nor dissuade Gogo now that she’d set her heart on it. The two were already halfway out the door, Baymax’s case in hand, when he suddenly remembered an item of vast importance. “And for goodness sakes take a helmet!”

               Gogo simply saluted and shut the door behind them.

               “This couldn’t end badly at all.” Hiro muttered sarcastically to himself, shaking his head. He had half a mind to ignore the café and go out after them.

               …no, they’d be fine.

 


 

               “Okay, so just concentrate on keeping your feet straight and underneath you,” Gogo instructed, confident in her teaching strategy.

               Tadashi was decidedly less sure. “I don’t think this is such a good idea. Shouldn’t we start somewhere, I dunno, flatter?”

               After tugging on his skates, lacing them up tightly, and then making sure his helmet was on properly, Tadashi had taken a seat just outside the café, looking at the concrete incline that led to the end of the street. It flattened out in plenty of time to stop before reaching the intersecting street, and Gogo was insisting they start at the top in order to give him a chance to figure out his balance without having to propel himself as well.

               “You know why not,” Gogo chided. “Now woman up, and don’t let go until I tell you.”

               Tadashi took hold of a light post just outside, glancing at the Baymax station and wondering if it would be better to activate him immediately or to perhaps place him at the bottom of the hill where he would be closer to the inevitable injury. If he made it that far.  

               Gogo positioned herself at the end of the hill, ready to catch him, just to make sure he didn’t accidentally go flying into the street.

               “Okay, you can let go now,” she called up to him.

               “Um, maybe we can try again later?”
               “Tadashi.” Gogo had one hand on her hip, and was making it very clear that she was not moving until he let go.

               Tadashi took a steadying breath, and angled his feet properly, or at least what he hoped was properly. He let go, and the incline was enough to get him moving. And then he started to pick up speed.

               “This is a really bad idea!” Tadashi pin wheeled his arms in an attempt to stay upright.

               He had almost made it to Gogo when his right foot caught an indent in the pavement, coming out from underneath him. Gogo leapt forward and caught him, but not before he gashed open the knee that had collapsed.

               “Ow!” Tadashi cried out and curled up in a seated position as he heard Baymax activate, his head bowed over his injured knee.

               He’d been so close! All of this was getting aggravating; it seemed that no matter what he tried, there was something else that he couldn’t do anymore. One part of his mind knew he would get it eventually, but the prevalent part was hurting and five years old and just didn’t want to be in pain anymore. He started to tear up as Gogo bent down to examine his knee.

               “Ugh, Hiro’s going to kill me.” Gogo looked into Tadashi’s face, doing a double take when she saw that they were filled with tears, and were suddenly bright orange. “Woah, hey. Um, don’t cry. It’s just a scrape.”

               He squeezed his eyes shut, but it was too late. Tears had already spilled over, travelling down the bridge of his nose and onto his wounded knee.

               “I heard a sound of: Distress. I will now scan for injuries.” Baymax looked down at Tadashi. “Scan complete. You are uninjured, but you remain distressed. Do not panic, and take deep breaths.”

               “Baymax, I think you need to get your scanner checked. He’s clearly injured, don’t you see the blood?” Gogo pointed to the knee, but took a second look herself, before reaching down to wipe away the blood.

               “Hey!” Tadashi felt the pressure, but not the pain he was expecting. He opened his eyes to see closed and smooth skin through the tear in his jeans. “But- what?”

               “My scanners are fully functional. Tadashi is uninjured.”

Chapter Text

 

-Back inside the Lucky Cat Café-

 

               After Gogo disappeared out the door with his brother, Hiro was soon busy again. The couple in the corner had decided they were going to have a late lunch instead of just a snack, and the man wanted the coffee that could only be made by the machine Hiro and Wasabi had just ‘fixed’. Not only was it the loudest and most obnoxious machine to work with, but it also had a tendency to go completely haywire at any given moment.

               Hiro had taken it apart and reassembled it multiple times, but simply could not figure out what was wrong with it. He would have gotten rid of it, but it was one of Aunt Cass’s machines, and he wanted everything to be as similar as possible if—no, when she woke up and got back to work. Also, try as he might, he couldn’t recall her ever having problems running it. It was probably an issue with him.

               Sending a silent command to the machine- work like you’re supposed to, just once, gosh darn it- as if it would do any good, Hiro turned it on and set it for the man’s order. The loud grinding noise of it starting up signaled that it was going to behave, for now anyway. While the coffee was being prepared, Hiro had time to let his mind wander. Something Honey Lemon had told him while the other three were upstairs had him wondering and slightly worrying.

               Why hadn’t he noticed the marks? Sure, there hadn’t been a time recently when he had seen Tadashi’s back, but he felt like he should have somehow known, through brother instincts, or something. Why hadn’t Baymax picked up on them when he had scanned him earlier? Or maybe he had, and hadn’t told him. If so, why hadn’t he notified him? Something like this had to be important.

               Of course, it had taken some prompting to find out about Tadashi’s other changes. As if having him back alive wasn’t enough, though he was much younger, Tadashi had come back with hollow bones and a higher body temperature. Now these markings were revealed, and Hiro had to wonder what else he didn’t know about his returned brother. He’d have to look into it more when he had a spare moment.

               The quieting of the coffeemaker and a small ding brought him out of his musings. Hiro took the order to its appropriate table, and returned to the counter. He glanced at the door just in time to see Gogo walk through it with Tadashi trailing behind her, as if trying to hide himself from Hiro’s view. That didn’t bode well.

               Hiro looked up at the clock to be certain, but it only verified what he’d thought. “You guys were gone for like, five minutes.”

               “Yeah, um, Hiro?” At Gogo’s uncertainty, Hiro felt fear tighten his chest. Gogo never looked uncertain... unless there was a very good reason. “I think you might want to see this.” She gestured to the back room, intending to lead them there to avoid making a scene. His thought processes stopped when Hiro noticed Gogo’s hand.

               “I-is that blood?”

               Gogo realized her mistake and went into crisis aversion mode before Hiro’s worry became fully-fledged panic.

               “We’re both fine, Hiro.” She took a firm grasp of his upper arm with her clean hand and led him to the back room, setting him down on a supplies crate. “Neither of us are hurt, you can even ask Baymax.” As she said this, the robot finally caught up to the group. “Or see for yourself.”

               Gogo reached behind her and used a hand to the back of Tadashi’s head to guide him into Hiro’s view for inspection. A quick onceover and Hiro reached towards the bloodied hole over Tadashi’s knee, thinking to himself that Gogo’s definition of fine and his definition of fine must be very different things. However, he couldn’t seem to find the injury, or even, apart from the blood itself, any redness to indicate a scrape.

               “Baymax, scan him,” Hiro ordered.

               “He already has.” Tadashi had finally spoken up, getting over his own initial shock. He set unlaced skates on the ground next to him and pulled up his pants leg until it was over his knee. “There’s no injury. At least, not anymore...”

               “Not anymore?” Hiro was desperately trying to process this information, but he felt like he was missing some key piece that would make it understandable. “What happened? I want every last detail.”

               “Well,” Tadashi shifted slightly, reaching for the brim of a hat he no longer wore, trying to think of some way to phrase what happened that wouldn’t throw Gogo under the metaphorical bus. “I put on my skates and helmet, and Gogo went to the end of the hill so I wouldn’t go flying into the street.” He generously left out the instances of his protests.

               “I was almost to her, but I lost my balance and my leg came out from underneath me, scraping on the sidewalk. She did catch me, so I wasn’t hurt worse. Um… I sat down, and by the time Baymax got to us, he scanned me and I wasn’t hurt anymore.” Tadashi shrugged. “The end.”

               Gogo rolled her eyes at the barebones explanation. “That wasn’t everything that happened, and you know it.”

               Tadashi was confused for a moment. Did she want him to tell Hiro that he hadn’t wanted to go down the hill? Then he realized what she was referring to.

               “Oh, uh, I cried. Just a bit.” Tadashi chewed on his lower lip. Hiro wanted details, so he supposed he would give him details. “I mean, it was enough that I got tears on my knee, so maybe it was more than just a bit... Then Baymax scanned me, said I wasn’t hurt, and Gogo wiped at the blood to check, so that’s why it’s on her hand.”

               He paused for a moment, trying to think of anything else. “I think that’s everything.” He looked to Gogo, who nodded, satisfied with the story, though she had something to add.

               “Also, though I doubt he could see it himself, Tadashi’s eyes were bright orange right before he started crying. I’m not talking about a trick of the light or glare from the sun orange either. This was some colored contacts unnatural orange.

               Hiro looked like he was considering something, fiddling with the edge of his sleeve like he did when he was lost in thought. He knew exactly what she was talking about, and he could picture it clearly. He’d seen it before, back in the hospital room. Right when Tadashi had been close to tears.

               “Baymax, scan him again, specifically the skin of the previously injured knee. Bring up everything you find on the screen, whether you deem it ‘important’ or not.” He’d really need to work on the issue of Baymax withholding information.

               “Scan complete. Displaying results now.” A list of components appeared on Baymax’s stomach. The alphabetically organized compounds were grouped and named for better understanding. Hiro skimmed through the list, past asphalt, blood, foreign skin cells attributed to Gogo, and normal components of skin, to a listed compound with no name. Hiro pointed to it.

               “So, what about this one?”

               “This substance is not in my database. However, it contains cell information similar in many aspects to that found in a non-specific embryotic stem cell, indicating regenerative properties.”

               Bingo. Hiro had one more thing he wanted to check before he could be absolutely sure.

               “Baymax, scan the substance on Gogo’s hand and check for a matching compound to the unidentified one.”

               There was a beat of silence, before: “Scan complete. There is a match.” Baymax pulled up a similar list next to the previous one, highlighting the compound in both. Hiro was certain now.

               “Okay. So whatever it was wiped off easily and was introduced after the injury, but before Gogo made contact. Also, looking at what was found on Tadashi and Gogo’s skin, there is a distinct lack of lacritin, a main component of tears –and saliva, but that’s not important. So this mystery regenerative substance must have been what he cried, and what healed him.” Hiro sat back, looking very pleased with himself.

               Gogo didn’t look impressed. “So his tears healed his wound. I could have guessed that.”

               “But could you have proved it?” Hiro snarked back.

               Tadashi tuned them out, retreating into his own thoughts. So... his tears, except they weren’t even really tears, at least not normal tears, had healed him.

               Could he do it again? Except, he didn’t feel like crying. In fact, he was surprised he had cried earlier. He didn’t recall being particularly prone to do so, unless there was a very good reason, but maybe being five made it easier.

               Did the healing work on just him? Could he use it on other people? Could he even control it? He hadn’t really been aiming for his knee, it just sort of happened. Could he extract it? Or would the effects wear off?

               “Earth to Tadashi, come in Tadashi.” Hiro waved a hand in front of Tadashi’s face, startling him and effectively derailing his train of thought.

               “Hm? What were you saying?”

               Hiro chuckled; when Tadashi was preoccupied, he was completely oblivious to his surroundings, which had made for some interesting pranks in the past. He wouldn’t notice what was going on until it was far too late.

               “Gogo and I were wondering what you wanted to do about this. I mean, it’s your tears or whatever.” Hiro shrugged.

               “Oh.” Tadashi blinked, sorting his thoughts into something semi-coherent. “I was wondering if I could do it again, or force it to happen, somehow… and if it might work on other people.” He’d first need to find out what exactly was necessary to activate the ability.

               “I figured you would say something like that. Hey, Gogo. Do you think-“ Hiro was cut off when Gogo’s phone went off. Her messaging alert was something of a mix between an air raid siren and dubstep, and could not be missed or ignored.

               Digging it out of her pocket and checking the incoming message, she let out a string of curses through clenched teeth that had no place around a five year old. Of course, Tadashi had already heard them all before, and was amused at the creativity of their arrangement.

               “Of course, they can’t handle a single thing going wrong.” Shoving her phone back into her pocket, Gogo headed for the door. “Their timing, I swear. You two better tell me anything you find out, I gotta go.”

               “Wait, don’t you want your—“ But she was already gone. “Helmet?” Tadashi lowered the arm he had raised to gather up the helmet that had been set next to his skates.

               “She’ll be fine.” Hiro didn’t seem concerned enough to Tadashi, but he supposed there wasn’t really anything he could do now. There was no way he could catch up to her, especially since he didn’t know where she was going.

 


 

               Baymax and Tadashi headed upstairs while Hiro went back into the café and collected the bills from the indecisive, but clearly happy, couple and the bored looking red headed guy sitting near the window. Once they had all filed out, Hiro changed the sign on the door to ‘Closed’ and locked up. There were only a few small ‘closing time’ tasks that he could do in his sleep to finish before he joined Tadashi upstairs.

               “I guess it’s a good thing you went shopping today.” Hiro gestured at Tadashi’s torn jeans, before starting his computer and pulling up a search engine.

               “If I hadn’t been shopping, I wouldn’t have the roller skates in the first place.” Tadashi was sitting on his own bed, with his shoes off and a large white teddy bear clutched in his arms. Hiro remembered Honey Lemon having mentioned getting it for him, but he had forgotten until just then. It was cute, and suitable for the whole five year old image that Tadashi probably needed to keep up to avoid too much suspicion.

               “Don’t get blood on the sheets,” Hiro cautioned as he turned back to the screen, wondering what he would even need to type to find what he was looking for. There was plenty to describe, but search engines were notorious for giving you exactly what you didn’t need.

               “It comes out with dish soap,” Tadashi pointed out, feeling reluctant to do much of anything after the adrenalin crash.

               Hiro didn’t even spare a glance backwards, and found himself very nearly quoting his own brother from ‘before.’ “Only if you want to scrub it. Just change into some new jeans.”

               Hearing movement and guessing that Tadashi was taking his suggestion, Hiro just decided to type in what he knew and see what came up. How bad could it really be?

               The words ‘hollow bones high temperature healing tears’ resulted in a whole bunch of medical articles, but none of them applied to Tadashi’s state. There weren’t any results when he paired the words like they were supposed to be, but he wasn’t really surprised. Trying something else, he added ‘fire’ to his search query, leaving out ‘high temperature’, since that only seemed to draw up medical pages on fevers.

               The results were varied, but a single word caught his eye, reminding him of the long string of theories Fred had rambled off on the first night he had reintroduced Tadashi to the group. He had been particularly adamant about this one, so maybe...

               Hiro figured it couldn’t hurt to know a bit of lore on it, and cleared his search bar, typing in the word ‘Phoenix’. On the results page, he scrolled past the mentions of the state capital and followed the link for Phoenix (Mythology). Reading the first line, and then rereading it just to be sure, Hiro couldn’t help but laugh a bit in disbelief.

               No. Freaking. Way.

               Tadashi had finished dressing and looked over when he heard slightly hysterical laughter build up from Hiro’s side of the room. Mildly concerned, he padded over to where Hiro was seated.

               “Hiro? What’s so funny?“ Tadashi looked up at the screen, trying to determine what could have made Hiro- “Oh.” Oh.

               Hiro began to recite: “’Obtaining new life by rising from the ashes of its former self, the phoenix is typically depicted as a fiery bird. A remarkable aspect, apart from its natural ability to control its own fire, is the regenerative property of its tears, which can heal wounds and combat the deadliest of venoms.’ Holy freaking— Fred’s gonna have a field day with this.” Hiro reached for his phone, unlocked the screen and began typing away.

               Tadashi couldn’t help but wonder what he’d just been dragged into.

 

Chapter Text

               As necessary as it was, picking new marks made Kyouji jittery with nerves, causing his hands to shake minutely. He shoved them into his pockets to conceal them as he continued to roam the aisles of the electronics store, as good a place as any to pick out the well-to-do. It didn’t matter who he took from now that he was basically back to square one. No fence meant targeting items would be a waste of time, unless it was something he could use himself. Money, preferably cash, was the important thing at the moment.

               However, it wouldn’t do to look suspicious right off the bat. During the act itself, his head would clear, and he’d be fine, but in the anticipation beforehand there was nowhere for the nervous energy to go. His own reaction annoyed him, since there was no real reason to be nervous until he actually attempted a theft. In the time before, he was safe.

               Well, as safe as you could be when you hadn’t brought in any decent goods in a while to cover the ‘fees’ Yama insisted on from those who didn’t have any footing of their own. And now on top of that, Kyouji was limited to things that were immediately valuable. He’d just have to work harder, he reasoned. Though it was a pain to deal with Yama, he was better off now than a couple years ago.

               The downside was that once you started, it was nearly impossible to back out safely. Yama didn’t need to be smart about keeping them in line when he had brute force on his side, which Kyouji was minorly grateful for. It could be far worse. The only thing Yama made it his business to know was what each person under his thumb was capable of bringing in. Mistakes were met with little mercy, and to deliberately cheat him out of ‘his share’ was something few could get away with.

               Kyouji’s last choice had been a total bust, but at least he hadn’t been caught by the law, and he’d even been paid, though it wasn’t much. He still wasn’t completely certain what had caused Yama’s change of heart, but whatever kept him employed and out of deep water was fine by him.

               He scoffed quietly to himself. If you could call it employment.

               Stepping out of an aisle, Kyouji felt something run into his leg. Okay, what was it with things—people, whatever, running into him lately? Glancing down, he saw a small child wearing a shirt that likely wouldn’t fit him for years. At least the kid had the decency to look up at him through dark hair and mutter an apology rather than run off.

               “Just watch where you’re going next time, kid.” He didn’t have time to deal with this, and if the brat had been trying to pickpocket him, he was out of luck. He didn’t have anything on him at the moment worth the effort.

               He was about to walk away when a very familiar blond approached the two of them, apologizing for the younger one’s behavior. Kyouji didn’t hear a word of it, however, as he started mentally panicking.

                This. This is why you don’t steal from locals.

               Kyouji didn’t even have any of the ‘serum’ on him at the moment, not that he could have silenced both her and the kid before an alarm was raised. He could try to run for it, he was probably fast enough—

               But. She was smiling, even laughing. She didn’t seem angry, but you never knew…

               “—ran into you at the airport, how’ve you been?”

               Oh. She didn’t know. Kyouji relaxed, laughing a bit in relief, though he supposed it could pass as that of recognition. Taking one of his hands out of his pockets, he pushed his bangs back off his forehead out of habit as he considered how to respond. Hopefully they wouldn’t notice or comment on the tremor.

               “Oh, yeah. You’re that British girl”—not really, unfortunately—“ who nearly knocked me over from behind. How anyone has that much energy after getting off a flight is beyond me.”

               Really, what was she, the energizer bunny? The thought brought a grin to his face, but keeping it there took work. His neutral face wasn’t exactly friendly, and he needed to keep her from getting suspicious until he got away. Kyouji didn’t like the way the kid was looking at him.

               “Sorry about that. Again. I’m Honey Lemon, and this little guy is Tadashi.” Her smile was a bit disarming, which only made him more uncertain. “And I’m not actually British, I’ve just been away for a while.”

               Gee, that would have been nice to know at the time.

               “Hm, could have had me fooled. I’m Kyouji, uh— Kyouji Shakuzai.”

               Perhaps he should turn off autopilot and actually pay attention to what he was saying, though it was too late for faking an introduction. Thankfully, giving them his ‘official’ name wouldn’t hurt anything. The only places he used it anymore were those that required the fake driver’s license in his pocket, and it was doubtful he’d see her there. She didn’t seem the type.

               “That’s an unfortunate name.” Kyouji didn’t appreciate the teasing tone her voice took.

               And great, she actually knew Japanese. Fantastic. No one had actually commented on his name in years, once those who found it funny grew up and moved on to more entertaining targets. Realizing he had let his smile slip, he forced another grin.

               “This is coming from someone named ‘Honey Lemon’?” Two could play at that game.

               Honestly, who names their kid that? At least his dad had had a compelling reason. Once he thought about it for a second, in all likelihood, hers was either a nickname, or her parents were hippies of some kind.

               Kyouji noticed the kid -Tadashi, wasn’t it?- as he started to pull on Honey Lemon’s sleeve, asking to leave. Thank goodness. He realized he was being addressed again.

               “It was nice seeing you again.” –Not really– “Maybe we’ll run into you again sometime.” At this statement, Kyouji outright laughed.

               “Please don’t. I dunno how much more of that I can take from the two of you.”

               What were they going to do next, hit him with their car?

               They walked off to the front of the store, and though they probably weren’t coming back, Kyouji quickly decided it would be best to make himself scarce. He would find somewhere else to scope out, no skin off his back. He waited just until they were gone before leaving as well. No reason to risk them following him.


 

               Having exited the mall unfollowed, Kyouji felt his cheap-worthless-good-for-nothing cellphone buzz to alert him of a new message. Only two or three people had his number, and only one person ever texted him for anything.

               Opening up the messages, Kyouji saw that, sure enough, there was a location from a blocked number. It was for one of the run-down buildings just off the port that he frequented often, and was maybe a ten-minute walk from where he was. Apparently, today hadn’t been stressful enough. Thanks, universe.

               Shoving his phone back in his pocket, he allowed his mind to wander as he traveled the familiar streets and alleyways. No one would give him any trouble he couldn’t end quite quickly (and unpleasantly), even without the serum itself. But that didn’t mean he didn’t need to watch his back, a thought which cycled his train of thought back to the more present threat.

               He really didn’t want to know why Yama was asking for him so soon.

Many newbies would look at Yama and scoff, underestimating him, but his size wasn’t as much a weapon as his ability to make people disappear. Yama on his own would probably amount to nothing more than an oversized playground bully, but his older brother was much higher up in the chain of command. This afforded Yama a lot more power than he could ever have attained on his own.

               It didn’t, however, make him invincible. A few years back, Yama had been picked up by the police, along with almost everyone else at the bot fight, after he had had his bot obliterated by some kid. Honestly, the kid would have ended up on respirators if he hadn’t been conveniently rescued by some guy on a bike. Kyouji had been small enough and smart enough to not try to run from the police and instead hid until they left, avoiding capture.

               It would have taken little effort to bail out Yama, even with the other charges against him, but his brother had decided to let Yama remain in jail for two years, forbidding anyone to help him out in order to punish him for his stupidity and bot-fighting habit. (As if they would. No one was disappointed to have him off the streets.)

               Nearly everyone who had the money bet on the fights, but it was ridiculously expensive and risky to participate. Thousands of dollars could go into the perfect bot, only for it to be destroyed in seconds. This was the main reason its popularity had gone down in the past years; no one was willing to invest anymore.

               Kyouji reached for the door handle to the dilapidated house, wondering if they should hang a sign that read, ‘Nothing suspicious going on here. Move along.’

               Stepping over the threshold, he was greeted by one of the more agreeable people of the bunch, the only other person he’d given his number. (Though even if Kyouji hadn’t, he had a feeling that the darker skinned man would have found a way to get it. That was what he was known for, after all.)

               “Hey, Jadoku, I got ya some of those syringes you were asking for.” A wide grin settled on the brunette’s face as he reached down into his bag and passed Kyouji a bag with an assortment of small, empty syringes. A maze of black circuits started at his knuckles and disappeared up his extended arm into his sleeve.

               “They’re sterile, right?” Kyouji accepted the bag, having paid in advance for them to be sought out. The other man just laughed.

               “’Course they’re sterile, made sure myself. Wouldn’t want you getting sick.”

               Kyouji wouldn’t, though. As far as he was aware, it was likely his blood that destroyed any virus or contaminant that entered his body, considering… but it was the thought that counted, he supposed. He just didn’t want to accidentally give one of his targets something that would ruin their life. That was not the business he was in.

               Giving a brief thanks, he made his way to the back of the building to wait for whatever Yama had to tell him. Grabbing a water bottle, he settled down into one of the worn down chairs and pulled one of the syringes out of the bag. He really didn’t feel like not having a safety net at this point, and outright killing Yama, while possible, was suicidal at best.

               Unscrewing the cap of the bottle, he dipped the needle into the water and pulled until the syringe was almost full. He then set the bottle besides the chair and rolled up his sleeve, trying to ignore the minorly terrifying prospect of the needle getting stuck in him. It hadn’t happened yet, but Kyouji still didn’t like the idea of a needle under his skin, so he quickly poked the skin of his forearm with the needle, drawing it away from his arm as a bubble of blood welled up. He didn’t need much, but he had to make this fast.

               Lining up the needle, he carefully pulled until he saw red in the main of the syringe. He hastily got another syringe to gather the excess blood before the tiny puncture closed up, (the fewer times he had to do this, the better). The only indication it had happened was a singular, tiny green scale, which wouldn’t be too difficult to hide. Taking the blood-only syringe, he dipped it into the water bottle to fill the rest of the way.

               Kyouji didn’t care about cross-contamination. His blood was venomous, not poisonous, and you could drink it by the mouthful if you were so inclined. …unless you had chapped lips or a stomach ulcer or an open gum or a scratched throat—

               Mildly disgusted by that train of thought, Kyouji capped the first syringe and slipped it into his pocket, keeping the other to fiddle with until Yama, who apparently didn’t care about keeping people waiting, decided to show.  

               Finally hearing the heavy footsteps that couldn’t belong to anyone else, Kyouji capped and placed the other syringe in his pocket. As nice as it was to have, the serum would be best left unused in this situation, and he couldn’t trust himself when he was a jumpy as he was currently.

               Yama rounded the corner and plopped himself unceremoniously into an adjacent armchair. He had a couple of what looked to be photos in his meaty hands and looked quite pleased with himself.

               “I’ve decided that I’m going to graciously allow you to make up for your mistake, Jadoku.”

               It really wasn’t that big of a mix-up, it was more that next to nothing had come of the risk, and Yama just loved to throw his weight around when he could.

               Yama continued, “You may not be aware of it, but a few years ago, I was cheated out of quite a bit of money, along with my prized fighter bot, and was stuck in jail for the entirety of two years. Two years in prison, and I had practically wasted away.”

               Kyouji had to bite his lip to keep from smirking at that. If this was wasted away, how much had he underestimated his size before? Thankfully, Yama didn’t notice, too busy lamenting lost time, or he’d be in for some serious pain.

               “—and who do I see everywhere in the papers upon my release? The little brat that had stolen what was rightfully mine. Hiro Hamada.”

               Kyouji didn’t know where this was going, and was uncertain if he actually wanted to. Nothing good came of a slighted Yama.

               “Of course, there was nothing I could do at the time, having to recover from my time in jail and many of my most trusted followers having vanished into thin air—“ Lucky them “-but fate has given me another chance.”

               At this, he handed the photos to Kyouji, who accepted them warily. He stilled when he saw the subject of the top one. It was a photo of the kid who had run into him at the store, looking up at someone Kyouji thought he vaguely recognized. There was a glare on the photo, as if it had been taken through a screen, and Kyouji mentally questioned how these had been obtained.

               The second photo looked as if it had been cropped, since it was focused on an advertisement on the counter that announced the business hours of somewhere called the Lucky Cat Café. He thought he might have remembered passing by it at some point, but café’s weren’t exactly his number one hangout location. Yama was looking at him expectantly.

               “So, what’s the job, exactly?” Kyouji didn’t see anything that he would specialize in, since it was unlikely that a café had anything more than the contents of a cash register.

               Yama rolled his eyes, exasperated. “Must I explain everything?”

               No, the bare minimum would suffice, thanks.

               Yama jabbed a finger at the first picture, pointing at the older guy. “This is Hiro.” He spoke as one would to a kindergartner. He then moved his finger to the kid, Tadashi, Kyouji remembered. “And this is your target.”

               Reaching out and taking the second picture, he pointed to the café’s name, “And this is where you will find them.”

               Kyouji had never wanted to strike someone as badly as he did at the moment, but he had other priorities. Like continued breathing.

               “I don’t steal people. Why would you want the kid, anyway?” That was pushing it a little, but he’d never been asked to do something like this before, and he didn’t like the idea of dragging a kid into this. “For all you know, he barely knows him.”

               “Just leave the details to your superiors.” Yama looked convinced that things were going to go his way.

               An acrid taste built in the back of his throat, and Kyouji grit his teeth. He was getting sick of this. This arrogant, unskilled brute of what he hesitated to call a man who thought he could just point and snap his fingers and have whatever he wanted handed to him on a silver platter without doing jack because he somehow felt it was owed to him—

               “And what makes you think I’ll do it?” Jadoku seethed.

               Yama’s change in expression had gut-dropping fear quickly overriding Kyouji’s flash of anger. Nope, nope, he should not have said anything. Before Kyouji could even think to apologize, Yama had his arm in a bone-crushing grip, causing green scales to appear in an attempt to protect the area, hidden beneath his sleeve. The sensation of ants crawling to the surface of his skin was a reminder of exactly how stupid that had been.

               “And what else are you going to do,” Yama mocked, grip tightening impossibly further, “Bleed on me?”

               Kyouji was could feel the dredges of fury rearing up again, but his self-preservation kept him quiet. He could do so much worse. Yama released his arm, believing he’d made his point.

               “We aren’t going to hurt him, just remind ‘Zero’ that he owes me some money. With interest.”


 

               Kyouji lingered around the street intersection, feigning interest in the various posted ads until he finally noticed a couple enter the café. It was only then that he felt it safe to follow close behind. He hadn’t wanted to be the only one in the shop, which could possibly encourage small talk. Besides the current need to not socialize too much with potential targets, it was something Kyouji avoided on a regular basis if he could.

               Upon entering, he noticed Honey Lemon at the counter speaking animatedly with someone who could only be Hiro, the one from the picture. In person, he could see how he could have been the small kid from the bot fight, just grown up. If possible, Kyouji would rather not interact with Honey again that day. How did the phrase go? Once is coincidence, twice is creepy... something like that.

               Thankfully, she checked her phone and was out the door with a whirlwind of promises to call Hiro, mentioning something about supplies, and didn’t take any notice of her surroundings. That solved one possible problem.

               Kyouji wasn’t stupid or arrogant enough to think he could get hold of the kid on the first visit, so this was simply to get the layout of the place. He didn’t want to raise suspicions right away, but he needed to know the location and the possible individuals that would be involved in what he was going to attempt.

               He remembered the twenty he still had from being paid that he had later put in his shirt’s breast pocket. It was one of the safer, yet still easily accessible locations to store money that prevented him from looking paranoid by using his shoe.

               Approaching the counter, Kyouji took a quick look over the menu. Remembering that he hadn’t had lunch yet, he ordered a relatively cheap sandwich and water. No sense in wasting money on some fruity drink he didn’t need, and non-bottled water was free most places.

               After accepting his order’s number, Kyouji picked a table near the exit, right next to a window. Might as well have some options should anything ‘highly unlikely’ happen. From where he was, he had a full view of the street, right down to the end where the incline tapered off before it reached the intersection he had been at. He had to remember that, since anyone sitting here could have seen him earlier.

               His attention was drawn back to the counter as the kid, Tadashi, made an appearance, accompanied by a short woman with short black (and was that purple?) hair and a tall, built guy with well cared for dreads. This guy had the potential to be terrifying, if it weren’t for the sweater he was wearing, the way he carried himself, and sheer panic that exuded from every pore of his being as he bolted out the door, shouting about being late. Kyouji was more wary of the woman holding some skates that were clearly too small for her.

               The woman passed the skates to Tadashi and started to talk to Hiro, while Tadashi stood there looking like he was about to be sentenced to some form of punishment. Thankful he was close enough to overhear the conversation, Kyouji feigned interest in one of the posters advertising some sort of poetry night held in the café.

               “Hey, I’m gonna take Tadashi to go roller skating.” The woman certainly left no room for argument, which Hiro seemed to recognize, even if his face indicated that he had some concerns.

               “Take Baymax with you.”

               The heck’s a baymax? From the fact that the two were already almost out the door, Kyouji guessed it was the large carrying crate that the woman had tucked under her arm. What was it, some giant first-aid kit?

               “And for goodness sakes, take a helmet!” The last minute request earned nothing more than a salute from the woman before she was out the door.

               Kyouji realized with a jolt that his order was ready and went to collect it just in time to hear Hiro mutter, “This couldn’t end badly at all.” He could only hope so, as the kid wouldn’t be much use dead.

               Returning to his seat, Kyouji covertly watched out of the corner of his eye as the kid put on his skates and helmet just outside the door while receiving what he guessed were instructions. The woman went down to the end of the street just in time for one of the most obnoxious grinding noises Kyouji had ever heard to start up, coming from a coffee machine behind the counter.

               Well, there went Kyouji’s slim chance of hearing anything useful for a while, though visual clues were just as useful. The poor kid looked terrified, holding on to the light post as if it were a lifeline, glancing frequently at the box (the baymax?).

               Kyouji stifled a laugh with a small cough, as it looked like Tadashi wasn’t going to willingly let go anytime soon. He couldn’t blame him, that hill was steep. Finally letting go, Tadashi started to travel down the hill, faster and faster. Kyouji began to truly wish the kid didn’t get himself killed. That would cause some definite issues.

               The kid’s actually doing pretty decently, he might just- Kyouji winced. Nope, spoke too soon. That had to hurt.

               Kyouji’d had his share of falls in the past, though their severity was greatly lessened when dark green scales had started to automatically appear to protect him. He subconsciously reached to pull on the sleeve that was covering their latest appearance. It was useful, he supposed, but they certainly took their time detaching to leave normal skin behind. He felt, even if he knew they weren’t currently visible, like they were some giant sign advertising, “Hey, this guy isn’t normal! Beware!”

               In the past, when the twitchy feeling of ‘wrongness’ had become too much, Kyouji had tried removing them himself before they were ready, but it had only made a bloody mess that resulted in newer, deeper scales appearing to cover the new injury. That had not been a good day.

               Kyouji started when the box by the door opened abruptly and something white started to inflate from inside. After a few seconds, the full form made its way down to the pair.

               What the—Was that some sort of robot? Okay, that was a stupid question, but Kyouji could say without a doubt that he had never seen anything like it before. He had to wonder what other surprises this assignment would have in store for him. Things were getting steadily more complicated.

               The white robot blocked his view, so he turned back to his meal. The infernal coffee machine finally quieted down, and Kyouji was nearly finished when the woman and the kid came through the door. The robot was apparently slower than the two, even with one of them injured, though it didn’t look like the kid was limping.

               “You guys were gone for like, five minutes.” Hiro definitely sounded nervous.

               “Yeah, um, Hiro? I think you might want to see this.” So you failed at keeping a kid from injuring himself, big deal. He seemed fine now. The color red on her hand caught his eye; had she been injured too?

               “I-is that blood?” Hiro seemed to notice as well and looked like he was on the verge of freaking out. The woman pulled her hand back before taking a hold of Hiro’s arm with the other hand and leading him towards what Kyouji assumed was a storage room, Tadashi trailing behind them and the robot (baymax?) coming through the door to join.

               “We’re both fine, Hiro.” She certainly seemed sure of that, and Kyouji vaguely wanted to see the fallout when Hiro discovered the injury, but they were out of hearing range.

               Or maybe they’ve all stopped talking for no apparent reason. That works too.

               There was no way he could follow after them, and with the other couple in the café, eavesdropping was out of the question. What would he even say to that?

               ‘Oh, yeah. I was really worried about this kid that I don’t know, but who ran into me at a store. I also think he doesn’t trust me, but don’t listen to anything he says, he’s just a kid.’

               That would go over really well.

               After finishing his food, Kyouji sat there waiting for the check. This was the stupidest system he had ever heard of. What was to prevent him from simply walking out the door without paying? Well, other than the fact that he would probably need to return in the future if he wanted to have any hope of completing his assignment. His hair was fairly recognizable.

               What are they doing back there, open heart surgery? This is taking forever.

               The woman made a sudden reappearance before dashing out the door and disappearing into the distance on her bike. What was it with these people running out the door?

               Hiro reentered the room as well, though there was no sign of Tadashi or the robot. There had to be something else beyond that door; it wasn’t normal to tell a kid to wait in a supply closet.

               Kyouji finally received his bill, paid, and realized that Hiro was planning on closing the shop for the day. He left at the same time as the couple, resolving to return another day and wondering just what had caused such a strange reaction from the group.

              

Chapter Text

            Fred had demanded Hiro and Tadashi head over immediately, already overloading Hiro’s phone with theories and references to obscure comic book characters. He had also sent a group message that insisted that everyone appear at his house within the hour, regardless of current plans.

            Hiro laughed, passing the phone over to Tadashi, who scrolled through the messages while pulling back on his shoes, coat, and scarf. Hiro helped with the ties and buttons, completely ignoring Tadashi’s insistence that he needed to practice if he was going to get his fingers to work right again.

            Debating for a minute whether or not he needed to wait for Wasabi and his van to go over to Fred’s place, Hiro decided that it would be a safe enough distance to use the bike, if he took it slow and Tadashi used the helmet Gogo left. It was too far to walk with a five year old he would probably end up carrying half of the way, even though he was much lighter than normal. Hiro dropped the discarded helmet into Tadashi’s arms.

            “Be sure to strap this on tight, don’t want you landing on your head and being unable to fix it.”

            Tadashi looked at Hiro like he had lost his mind; he felt like he had had enough near-death experiences for the day.

            “Um, can I have the obsessively safe Hiro back?”

            “I promise you’ll be fine.” He’d thought after spending the majority of his previous years as an adult, Tadashi would be more comfortable around his own bike.

            “Nope. We’re walking. Or taking the bus. Like normal people.” Tadashi placed the helmet by the front door and reached up to open it.

            “Not happening.” Hiro picked up the helmet again while grabbing his own on the way out. “I swore off riding the bus years ago when--“

            At this, Hiro cut himself off, wondering how Tadashi would react to finding out how he had upgraded Baymax. He still had the pieces around here somewhere. Tadashi, however, wasn’t going to let it go.

            “When what?” Tadashi looked up at him accusingly, noticing the two helmets in his hands, “What did you do?”

            Hiro tried to laugh it off, “Oh, nothing important.” He strapped Gogo’s helmet onto the child’s head, laughing at Tadashi when he tried and failed to unclip it.

            “Fine. I’ll just ask Fred when we get there. I’m sure he’d know.”

            Hiro froze. Fred would tell everything and then some, embellishing as he went. He supposed he should come clean before he made it worse.

            “Well... after you died-disappeared-whatever, I may or may not have givenBaymaxarmorandtaughthimhowtofly.”

            “You did what to Baymax?”

            “Hey! He himself admitted that the ability to fly made him a better healthcare companion.”

            “Please tell me you didn’t do something stupidly dangerous, bonehead.”

            “Well... I mean, not really, sort of...” Hiro trailed off there, scooping up Tadashi and changing the subject abruptly by placing him on the back of the bike. “Just hang on really tightly.”

            “I’m pretty sure this is illegal!” The last word of Tadashi’s sentence was nearly lost as Hiro started the bike and Tadashi took a death grip on Hiro, burying his face into the back of his brother’s hoodie so he couldn’t see what was coming.

            If he couldn’t see it, he couldn’t be hurt by it. Yeah. That was how it worked.  

 


           

            The bike slowed to a stop as Tadashi took mental inventory and decided that, yes, all body parts were accounted for. However, he didn’t think he could open his hands after they had been locked onto Hiro’s jacket for the twenty-minute ride.

            Tadashi felt Hiro shift and pulled his face away from his back, looking around before spotting a ridiculously large house through an ornate set of gates.

            “Are you going to let me go, so I can get off the bike?” Hiro turned back to look at Tadashi, confused by the sudden change of behavior. He thought Tadashi would jump at the chance of getting off of the bike. “We can go around the block again if you—“

            “No! No, that’s not necessary.” Tadashi pulled his hands free and quickly, if unsteadily, got down off of the bike before following a newly freed Hiro through the gates. Hiro was securing the bike to a stand when Tadashi spoke up again.  

            "This is Fred's house?" Tadashi pointed up to the mansion with wide eyes.

            "Yup." Fred emerged from the front door, grinning widely, having arrived just in time to overhear the question. "Mi casa es su casa, right?"

             Fred looked to Honey Lemon, who had arrived earlier and had joined him in the doorway, waiting for her nod of approval and grinning widely when he got it.

            The four were headed inside when Wasabi’s van pulled up to the side of the road. Wasabi made his way up to the door where the group had waited for him.

            “I got your text.” Wasabi held up his phone as proof. “The professor let us out a little early so he could get to his niece’s birthday party, so I was able to get here fairly quickly. So why’d you call us over?”

            “All shall be revealed,” Fred spoke with what he probably thought was a cool and mysterious voice, but Tadashi just thought he sounded creepy.

            Looking around the group, Wasabi noticed they were missing a member.

            "Where's Gogo? I thought she stayed behind with you and Tadashi." Wasabi asked Hiro as they headed in. Fred started to give Tadashi the tour, introducing him to Heathcliff.

            Hiro shrugged. "It sounded like something happened at work, she had to leave. She should come soon, if she got Fred’s text."

             After following Fred around his house, they finally made it to his cave of comics, already seeing a pile on the table, along with a couple of books and what looked like a set of movies, though they couldn’t be sure from a distance.

            “Wow, you read actual books?” Hiro picked one up, seeing the cover of the second Harry Potter book. Tadashi elbowed Hiro, though it didn’t have much effect from his height. Fred just laughed before putting on a falsely affronted look.

            “That is both rude and hurtful.”

            “I am so sorry, your majesty. I shall refrain from insulting your highly superior intellect in the realm of fantasy.” Hiro mockingly bowed and both guys started laughing.

            The other three had taken places on the overly plush couch. Tadashi was curled up at the end, resting his head, from which Hiro had graciously removed the infernal helmet, on the arm of the couch.

            “Okay, so after you texted me, I had Heathcliff help me gather all of the things I had available.” Fred gestured to the pile, pulling out a couple comics for reference. “All of them about Phoenixes and their abilities."

            "Phoenix?" Wasabi looked at Fred like he was crazy, as usual, while Honey Lemon glanced over at Tadashi, starting to put the pieces together.

            Hiro repeated what he had texted Fred, detailing the events of the afternoon, with the fiasco of attempting to roller blade.

            “And it probably has something to do with those markings you saw on his back, Honey,” he finished.

            "That makes sense." Honey Lemon smiled over at Tadashi.

             "Wait...healing tears? Isn't that....unsanitary? You know what normally accompanies tears, right?" Wasabi's face twisted with disagreement.

            "Who cares? He can flippin’ heal people!" Fred exclaimed, taking a seat on the couch. He squeezed in between Honey and Tadashi, beginning to file through one of the four or five comics he had gathered into his lap.

            Clearing his throat, Fred began his presentation of sorts.

            “So in this comic,” Fred held up a copy of Phoenix: The Protector, “the hero’s space station is destroyed, and he is rescued by a bunch of aliens, who were apparently responsible for mutating the human race from apes. He steals tech into his life suit, giving him powers approximate to a phoenix and taking the name.”

            “That really doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

            Fred hushed Hiro, who had taken a seat in the opposite chair, before continuing to the second in the stack.

            “In this one, the character Baron Zemo takes after his father by wanting to create a master race of humans, but falls into a boiling vat, leaving him with a hideously scarred face and he becomes a super villain. He faces off against Captain America, and though he doesn’t have any powers of his own, he’s wicked smart and creates a suit that gives him energy, gravity, and light manipulation, taking on the name the Phoenix.” Fred looked at it consideringly, “He later sort of becomes a hero, but metaphorically stabs all of his friends in the back when he reveals their secret identities.”

            “I don’t think that’s what we...” Honey Lemon began.

            Fred looked at her, holding up his hand.

            “I’m just laying some foundation.” He pulled up a third comic, flipping to a particular page with an actual image of a phoenix on it.

            “This is known as the Phoenix Force, which is the ‘nexus of all psionic energy’. It basically controls the universe and lends its powers to different hosts if they catch its eye with their telepathic ability.” Fred pulled out another similar comic from the stack on the table.

            “In this one, resulting from an attempt to destroy it, it explodes and passes its powers onto what are known as the Phoenix Five, giving them fire based abilities and mind control.” Fred looked expectantly at Tadashi.

            “No, I cannot read your mind.”

            “Have you tried?”

            “It’s not happening! Besides, if that’s what happened, why would I be a kid?”

            “Ugh, fine. I just wanted to check.” Fred set the others aside and held up the final comic. “I saved the best for last.”

            He found one page in particular and showed it. The panel was a full-pager, with a blond man looking towards the sky with bright, fiery wings sprouting from his bare back.

            “So, this guy started with just super strength, and worked on a space station with his pal who designed tech to advance his abilities. The end of the first comic has him being thrown into the sun.”

            Hiro rolled his eyes in amusement. Because that’s realistic.

            “The entity of the sun takes pity on him and returns him to earth, kissing his forehead and giving him his new powers of controlling fire, to the extent of propelling himself with the flaming wings on his back. They don’t actually burn him, but instead leave these marks when deactivated that look like someone has barbecued his back.”

            Honey Lemon quickly turned to Tadashi, “That sounds a lot like what you have.”

            “Dude! Maybe you’ve got your own set of wings!” Fred looked ecstatic at the idea.   

            "Wings?" Tadashi reached behind himself to touch his back.

            "It'll be so cool!" Fred's eyes gleamed with excitement. "You can go flying around over the city, and heal people. Oh, we need to think of a code name. Hmm....."

            "Fred, calm down. We're still not sure of all his abilities." Hiro interjected, making Fred slump down in his seat.

            "All the signs are there," he grumbled. “There’s also this.”

            Fred pulled the mythology book off of the table, opening the bookmarked page and passing it to Wasabi, before pulling the stack of Harry Potter books towards himself.

            “I use the myth book when coming up with new characters, and I remembered the phoenix in these books.” Fred opened up The Chamber of Secrets. “Here, Fawkes purges the venom from Harry after pecking out the basilisk’s eyes. In the fourth book, he heals Harry after a triwizard event, the fifth has him swallowing a death curse to protect Dumbledore, and in the sixth, he sings a song of lament that affects everyone in the area before disappearing.” Fred paused, looking over at Tadashi.

            “Apparently, a phoenix is loyal to a fault: willing to die for those it deems worthy, though it pops back up again soon enough.”

            “Whether they’re actually worthy or not.” Hiro angrily threw one of the comics he had been perusing down onto the table, before realizing what he had just implied. Maybe Tadashi wouldn’t-

            “And what do you mean by that?” Tadashi looked up at Hiro, upset that he was rekindling an argument that had been going on before the fire about Tadashi’s lack of self-preservation when it came to helping other people. Though he guessed Hiro had officially won that one.

            Hiro figured Tadashi would find out eventually, and as he thought of a response, he felt the resentment he still harbored towards Callaghan bubbling up. Even though the logical side of his brain knew it wouldn’t change anything, he was allowed to be angry. It was time Tadashi learned why. Honey Lemon realized where this was going, shaking her head at Hiro, but it was too late.

            “Maybe next time you shouldn’t go running in after selfish assholes-“

            “Hiro!”

            “-especially if it means leaving your brother on the sidewalk with no idea that you could come back.”

            “It’s not like I knew I could-“

            “Which makes it worse!”

            Tadashi bit his lip, knowing that Hiro had a point and wanting to diffuse the situation before it got out of hand. He responded in a much more subdued voice.

            “You can’t call him that. You can’t call him that just because you lost me.”

            Hiro laughed derisively, “You don’t even know. I mean, I guess you would have been physically an infant at the time, but ugh.” Hiro dropped his head into his hands in aggravation, while the others looked on silently; even Fred had nothing to say.

            “I don’t understand.” Tadashi looked to the others, but they remained silent until Honey Lemon spoke up.

            "We should probably wait until Gogo arrives to continue this. She'll want to be here."

            Tadashi wanted to protest the existence of yet another thing the group was keeping from him, but he knew Honey Lemon was probably right, and Hiro obviously needed a moment to calm down.

            "I haven’t been to SFIT since I came back... Can we go to the school?" Tadashi turned towards Hiro. "Please?"

            Hiro stayed quiet, sharing a few glances between his friends.

            "Sure."

            They all piled into Wasabi’s van and went over to the school, leaving instructions with Heathcliff to let Gogo in if she came while they were gone. It was only going to be a short trip.

            They walked up the steps, enjoying the nice weather, when Tadashi gasped, drawing all their attention towards the school.

            "I have a building?" He walked over to the entrance sign hanging high above his head. The sign proudly stated that the hall was dedicated to one brilliant Tadashi Hamada, in memory of him and his contributions to the medical field (namely Baymax).

            Hiro smiled sadly, briefly remembering coming to the opening ceremony of the hall, not too long after Tadashi's...disappearance, he supposed it was now.

            "I want to go back to school." Tadashi's statement drew Hiro out of his daze.

            "Tadashi... I don't know..."

            "Why not? You graduated high school when you were 13."

            "Tadashi, you can't go to college when you're 5." Honey Lemon bent down, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You'll draw too much attention."

            Tadashi didn’t look convinced. In the silence after the statement, Wasabi realized something.

            “So, what exactly are you going to do about Tadashi being, you know, alive again?”

            Hiro explained the paperwork he and Tadashi had filled out, expressing his concerns about getting things finalized.

            “No worries, mi amigo.” Fred spoke up when Hiro had finished, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “Legally, my parent’s lawyers can make anything happen, though you may get questions from normal people. Tadashi will be completely official before you know it!”

            Hiro was relieved to have that weight off his shoulders, and the conversation turned to the shopping trip that had occurred earlier that day.

            “You should have seen the cashier’s face when we came up with a basket full of Legos, and I gave Wasabi a card that had none of their names on it. I guess he didn’t want to have to restock the shelves, because he didn’t say anything.”

            “Ooh! I have an idea!" Fred jumped in front of Tadashi, making him jump a little. "Let's have a building contest."

            "Building contest?"

            "I have a whole room of Legos! Whoever can build the best building wins."

            "You're on!" Tadashi grinned widely, the idea lifting his spirits.


            

            The group arrived at Fred's house in just enough time to see Gogo at the door.

            "Gogo! Lego building construction contest, let's go." They all passed Heathcliff, and Gogo just shrugged and followed along.

            "So, which of you will be the judge?" Fred looked at Honey Lemon and Wasabi, thinking they wouldn't join.

            Both gave protests, wanting join too, and Wasabi promised to make Fred’s creation look like it was built by a caveman in comparison.

            "Well, I guess that settles it. Heathcliff!" Fred called, and the butler immediately came in, having been cleaning nearby.

            He seemed to have no reaction to the absolute mess Fred was making while overturning crates of Legos into the middle of the floor. Although, considering what he likely had to put up with while Fred grew up, it really wasn’t much of a surprise.

            "Time us for 30 minutes, then pick out a winner." Without question, Heathcliff whipped an arm around to keep an eye on his watch. They each claimed a section of the room, spreading out on the floor while waiting for Heathcliff's signal.

            "Begin." He said it softly, but it was enough for everyone to break into a frenzy, grabbing as many pieces as they could hold. Tadashi used his scarf to pull a large pile of Legos to his side of the room, since he couldn’t carry very many at once.

            The building started quickly, flourishing across the floor. While most of the others built high, Tadashi height was limited. Instead, he looked at it in a new angle, deciding to spread the buildings wide, having multiple short buildings. He recreated from memory the street with the café going down to SFIT, and had started on the next street over. He had become very familiar with the layout of San Fransokyo after having spent so many nights chasing down Hiro and rescuing him from dangerous situations.

            The detail Tadashi put into the buildings made him warm with pride, which increased when he got the hang of snapping multiple Legos together quickly with his little fingers, but he still was intimidated by the structures everyone else made.

            The allotted half hour went by quickly, each of them surprised when Heathcliff called time, making them stop. He walked around silently, pausing to observe each creation.

            Fred had a partially destroyed building with a stuffed Godzilla standing in the wreckage. Honey Lemon, her platforms giving her higher reach than even Wasabi, had built a towering pink, yellow, and red skyscraper that looked like it could fall over at any second. Wasabi had created a perfect cube with the colors in order, and it was almost big enough for Tadashi to lie flat on, if someone were to place him on top. Gogo had tried to create a working bike from Legos, but it hadn’t quite worked for her, the wheel refusing to turn, so she had scrapped it and created a standard tall building instead. Hiro had attempted to recreate Baymax through Legos, but it didn’t look like there had been enough white pieces, (Tadashi had used a lot of them in his own creation) so it was missing an arm and stood not quite as tall as Tadashi.

            Heathcliff kept his face straight, making them wait impatiently, before nodding his head at the end.

            "While all the creations are glorious, Master Tadashi has built something quite unlike the others. I declare him the victor."

            The others went to Tadashi's corner to see what he constructed, not quite able to see what it was from where they stood.

            "Wow, Dashi. That's amazing!" Hiro admired it, walking around to see all of it, recognizing most of the buildings. He was surprised at the number he had forgotten about until he saw them in miniaturized form.

            "You probably used the most Legos." Honey Lemon bent down, inspecting inside one of the courtyards, where Tadashi had created little benches.

            "Thanks, Heathcliff." Fred released him to whatever he had been doing before, and then nudged Tadashi.

            “So, Gogo’s here, we should get her caught up.”

            Fred brought down his laptop, the second Harry Potter book, and the comic with the man with wings. Setting his computer on the table and plopping down in a rolling chair, he pulled up an article on the Phoenix for reference.

            After filling Gogo in on most of the details, Fred ended his explanation with a description of the supposed marks on Tadashi’s back, though he explained that he hadn’t seen them himself yet.

            "Okay, take your shirt off." Gogo took hold of Tadashi's shirt, pulling it up.

            "Gogo!" Tadashi yelped in surprise, struggling to keep his shirt on.

            "Oh, woman up! It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, except for, you know, the marks."

            Tadashi was reminded of the time his shirt had caught in one of the machines at the lab, tearing it significantly and resulting in him having to change into Gogo’s jacket in order to be halfway decent, though even it hadn’t fit quite right. Honey Lemon probably still had pictures somewhere.

            While Tadashi was preoccupied with his thoughts, Gogo finally yanked off his shirt, turning his shoulder so his back faced the group. The dark marks and slightly raised skin stood out in stark contrast to his pale skin.

            "That's so cool!" Fred rolled his chair closer to Tadashi. "Does it hurt to touch?"

            "No." He had barely finished his answer by the time Fred’s hand touched his back, inspecting the marks more closely.

            "Your hands are cold!" Tadashi jumped a little.

            "No, dude. Your skin’s just overheated. Guys, feel."

            Because of Baymax’s earlier diagnosis, Hiro already knew of his higher temperature, but still laid a hand on Tadashi's shoulder, trying to determine if he was any warmer than before. He couldn’t tell the difference.

            "This is weird." Tadashi commented. The group laughed, removing their hands.

            "So, what? We just wait for wings to appear? Or would they come out in time of need?" Wasabi had declined to touch Tadashi's back, relying on the words of his friends. “Could they come out right now?” He put a distance between himself and Tadashi, as if expecting flames to come leaping towards him.

            "I'm not sure." Fred looked back to his website, wondering if he could find answers there.

            "What about his tears?" Gogo asked, looking to Hiro.

            “We don’t know much more than what happened earlier.” Tadashi nodded at Hiro’s statement, and was slightly worried at the look that came over Fred and Gogo’s faces.

            "So we need to make him cry." Fred smiled slyly.

            "Um...no." Tadashi shook his head. “Not going to work. I can’t just cry on demand.”

            "Have you tried stepping on a Lego?" Gogo reached down and offered one of the abandoned Legos to Tadashi in jest.

            "Not helping. Don’t encourage him!" Tadashi tossed the Lego to the side, out of reach.

            Tadashi was surprised when he was grabbed from behind, then taken to the ground. Hiro looked down at him, having snuck up behind him, and grinned before beginning his tickle assault.

            "H-Hiro! Stop," Tadashi thrashed around, trying to escape from Hiro's clutches, laughing uncontrollably.

            "Well it's a better route than getting hurt." Hiro smiled as he got his revenge on Tadashi from when Hiro used to be the smaller one. He remembered the one time he had found Tadashi's most ticklish spot: his side right above his hip, and went to attack that, hoping it'd be the same now.

            It was, and Tadashi let out a shriek of laughter, trying to turn to break free and protect his sides from the attack. Soon, his eyes gleamed orange, allowing Hiro to stop. The group went silent, their laughter dropping off quickly as amusement was replaced with amazement.

            "Wow," Wasabi whispered.

            Even though Gogo had seen the tears before, they still shocked her, especially since she could look at them now without worrying about the impending doom to be brought on her by Hiro. The brilliant orange of his eyes was breathtaking.

            Fred grabbed a test tube from a shelf –why did he have that?—and put it under Tadashi's eye, catching a tear as it fell.

            "Looks like we’ve got ourselves a sample." Fred handed the tube to Hiro, who capped it and held it out for inspection.

            "Do you think it will stay like this? With its healing abilities?"

             "I don't know."

            Honey Lemon helped Tadashi to his feet, and Tadashi wiped away the residue from his tears; his stomach ached from laughter.

            He took the tube from Hiro, looking at it closely. He hadn't seen his own tears before, and was amazed at what he saw. The orange coloring seemed to swirl, captivating him as he stared at it.

            Just what other secrets would he unlock?

Chapter Text

            The team reconvened in Fred’s comic room for comfort to discuss the possibilities of Tadashi’s healing tears and to eat the pizza Fred had ordered for the group. After speaking for a good hour or so, they decided to call it a night when they noticed Tadashi nodding off in his reclaimed corner of the couch.

            Hiro gently shook Tadashi awake before grabbing the two helmets and following the group to the front door. The brothers were almost to the bike when Wasabi noticed their course of action.

            "Whoa, whoa, whoa! What do you think you're doing?" Wasabi’s voice stopped Hiro's hand midair as he had started to put the helmet on Tadashi.

            "Going home," Hiro stated, looking up at Wasabi, exhausted in his own right. “He needs to wear his helmet... though it is one of Gogo’s, so maybe it’s too big.” Hiro looked at the helmet again consideringly, before continuing to secure it to Tadashi.

            Wasabi shook his head.

            "No. There is no way I’m letting you put a half asleep five year old on the back of a bike." Wasabi reached out to the bike and started to lead it to his van, plucking the helmets from Hiro’s hands and securing them to the handlebars. "I can take you both home."

            "That really won’t be necess-“ Hiro interrupted himself with a yawn, “-ary.”

            "Oh, really?” Wasabi tossed his keys to Hiro, who failed spectacularly at trying to catch them. “I will take you home," Wasabi said sternly, not taking ‘no’ for an answer, while accepting the keys back from Hiro, who had sheepishly picked them up from the concrete.

            Tadashi climbed into the center passenger seat of Wasabi's van as the two older guys managed to get the bike into the trunk after collapsing the back row of seats. Bike secured, Hiro slid into the seat next to Tadashi, checking to make sure he was properly buckled in. Wasabi began driving as carefully as ever, and began to nag Hiro as they left Fred’s neighborhood.

            "What were you thinking? That was not safe!”

            Hiro settled in for a ‘Wasabi lecture,’ realizing it was going to take a while.

            “--And I don’t care if there isn’t an age restriction for motorcycle passengers in California; a child shouldn’t be transported like that until he can at least reach the passenger footrests. Especially not this far of a distance!"

            Hiro smiled when he felt a warm weight fall against his arm.

            "Shhh, he fell asleep," Hiro whispered as he looked down at Tadashi, whose breaths had deepened and evened out. He moved his arm carefully to wrap around Tadashi, making it more comfortable, and Hiro felt increasing warmth coming from him, though nothing unbearable.

            Wasabi relented, deciding that Hiro would only hear what he wanted to hear.

            "Long day, huh?" Wasabi chuckled, speaking in a much softer voice, not daring to look back as he kept his eyes on the road.

            "Yeah. Lots of adventures. Honey probably has enough pictures to fill a new scrapbook." Hiro looked up at Wasabi. "Do you have class tomorrow?"

            "No, I'm off. My ten a.m. was canceled. Why? You need help with the cafe?"

            Hiro nodded, belatedly realizing Wasabi wouldn’t see it. "That would be very appreciated, yes. You know how Mondays are."

            Wasabi nodded sympathetically. “No problem. I’ll come early to help open the shop.”

            Wasabi finally pulled in front of the café, taking an extra minute to park at the curb. He then popped the trunk and wheeled the bike around the side of the building, securing it to the bike stand.

            Hiro didn't have the heart to wake Tadashi, so while Wasabi was busy with the bike, Hiro carefully unbuckled Tadashi before lifting him into his arms, being careful not to jostle him. He had known Tadashi was light, but it was still unsettling to carry a child and feel like he was lifting nothing more than a pillow. A very warm pillow.

            Wasabi took the house keys from Hiro and unlocked the door, turning on a few lights for Hiro as they made their way upstairs. Hiro carried Tadashi up to his bed, tucking him in before inspecting his own, finding the blankets still damp from the morning and having been left wadded up all day in a cold room.

            “I may regret asking, but what happened here?” Wasabi grimaced at the mess.

            "It’s just water. It was Tadashi's way of waking me up." Hiro regretted not having dealt with it earlier when he hadn’t been so tired. He stripped the damp sheets from the bed, which had absorbed excess moisture from the comforter, bundled them up and took them to the dryer downstairs. They weren’t necessarily dirty, so there was no sense in washing them.

            When Hiro had trudged back up the stairs to his room, he found Wasabi straightening the clutter on his desk.

            "Wasabi, seriously?" Hiro had no problem with him organizing his own space, but there were limits.

            "What? It's a mess." His cleanliness went into overdrive when Hiro opened his closet to find another set of sheets.

            "Dude."

            "Look, I haven't really had the time to clean up around here okay? You know, older brother coming back as a five year old kinda messes with things."

            “It looks like you haven’t cleaned in months.”

            Their whispers were interrupted when they heard Tadashi shift in the bed. They switched to wild gestures, not wanting to wake Tadashi, but both trying to get their point across as Wasabi tried to clean and Hiro tried to convince him it wasn’t necessary. Hiro eventually caved with a loud sigh followed by a quick glance in Tadashi’s direction. Good, he hadn’t woken.

            Hiro begrudgingly helped with some of the cleaning, deciding he would probably be able to go to sleep faster if he did. He put the dry sheets and comforter on the bed and took Tadashi's ripped jeans down to the garbage.

            At one point after Hiro returned, Wasabi knocked an unsteady action figure off of the desk he was desperately trying to organize, making him yelp more out of surprise than pain when it landed on his foot. He quickly stifled it, but a familiar inflating noise flooded through the room.

            Hiro was quick to attempt damage control.

            "Baymax! Shh!" Baymax put a finger on his face, mimicking the noise.

            "Yes, Master Hiro." Baymax trudged over to Wasabi, quietly asking how he would rate his pain on a scale of 1-10. Hiro shook his head, looking over and being happy to see Tadashi had remained fast asleep.

            "Master?" Wasabi asked. "He calls you master?"

            "Yeah." Hiro shrugged, remembering when he had jokingly asked Baymax to call him that after watching a marathon of Batman cartoons, and Baymax had ended up sticking with it, especially when Hiro was being ridiculous. “He doesn’t say it all the time, but convincing him not to hasn’t worked.”

            Baymax quickly confirmed no major injury, and performed a quick scan of Hiro and Tadashi before Hiro confirmed that he was ‘satisfied with his care.’ Baymax then returned to his charging station and deflated.

            After another couple of minutes, Wasabi finally gave up on the desk, deciding it was too large a task for one night. He wished Hiro goodnight, went downstairs, and drove away in his van, having locked the front door behind him.

            Hiro waited until he heard the click of the door locking before flopping onto the bed and falling asleep where he landed, not even taking the time to get under the fresh covers.

 


 

            Hiro startled to wakefulness and silenced his alarm as quickly as he could, before checking to make sure it hadn’t woken Tadashi. Through the divider, he saw the smaller form stir, turning to his side, but he showed no other signs of waking up any time soon.

            Problem averted, Hiro sighed, falling back onto the bed and debating the merits of just sleeping until Wasabi arrived. After a moment of consideration, Hiro sighed again, still not wanting to get up, and forced himself to roll out of bed to get ready for the day.

            He had barely made it downstairs after brushing his teeth and taking a quick shower, when he heard a knock at the door. Punctual as always. He welcomed Wasabi in and made coffee for them both from one of the non-evil machines, allowing Wasabi to pour his own so he wouldn’t complain about the incorrect concentration of milk or sugar in his coffee.

            Once they were both properly caffeinated, they started their usual routine of opening the shop. Wasabi looked over the pastries from the previous day, tossing the ones that did not meet his standards of freshness and putting marked down labels in front of the others. Hiro got a batch of fresh pastries started, and double-checked the sandwich supplies to make sure he had what was needed for the day. Wasabi was not allowed to do the first batch of pastries, even though his normally came out better than Hiro’s; he took far too long making sure everything was perfect.

            Once everything was relatively in order, Hiro looked to Wasabi, who nodded, before he flipped the sign on the door to ‘OPEN’, and let in the handful of early morning regulars in dire need of their before-work coffee. The two bustled around, making coffee and selling pastries to the steadily increasing crowd.

             After the initial rush calmed down a little, when it was late enough that many customers had left for work, Hiro let himself lean against the counter to recuperate from the mad scramble. Who needed exercise when you were on your feet most of the day? Wasabi chuckled at Hiro when he dropped his head to the counter with an overly dramatic sigh, prompting him to lift his head and childishly stick his tongue out at Wasabi.

            Wasabi glanced around the café at the various patrons busy with their meals and chatting to each other. He noticed a red-haired guy lingering just outside the door as if trying to decide whether or not to enter, looking into the shop through the glass.

            “Do you know this guy?” Wasabi nudged Hiro, pointing him out. “He looks like he’s afraid he’ll get struck by lightning if he walks through the door.”

            "I don’t know his name, but I think I recognize him.” Hiro shrugged, “I’m pretty sure he came in yesterday." He wasn’t completely positive, what with the craziness surrounding Tadashi, but red hair wasn’t exactly common in San Fransokyo.

            Apparently making up his mind, the guy finally entered and walked up to the counter, ordering a small coffee and a donut. He took a seat at the table closest to the counter while he waited for his coffee to brew, glancing over every now and then, and seemed content to drum his fingers on the table absentmindedly.

            Wasabi brought his order to the table, receiving minimal response in thanks.

            “Someone’s chatty,” Wasabi muttered to Hiro when he came back around the counter.

            Hiro shrugged as he took more empty mugs to the sink; it wasn’t uncommon for the earlier crowd to be less than friendly before they got their morning coffee. Hiro had learned to ignore it: people became nicer once they were awake.

            “I’m sure it isn’t personal.” Hiro swore quietly under his breath when one of the mugs slipped from his grasp and shattered on the floor.

            “Yeah, but he just seems a little... off.” Wasabi kept an eye on him as Hiro picked up the pieces of the mug and deposited them into the trash before going to get a broom.

            “You’re just being paranoid. Again.” It wasn’t the first time Wasabi had thought such things about a customer, and it likely wouldn’t be the last.

            The morning crowd had mostly filtered out, and the lunch crowd was yet to arrive, leaving them with only one customer in the café: the very customer that Wasabi had been commenting on. He had apparently just finished the last dregs of his coffee and approached the counter to pay.

            "Good morning." Hiro smiled at him, accepting the money and counting out the change.

            "Morning." He replied, keeping his head a little low, not quite looking Hiro in the eye. "You guys looked pretty busy. Do you not have any other help?"

            Hiro was a little shocked that someone had asked; normally people acted like they didn't even notice the lack of workers and just expected to be served as quickly as at a larger scale café. He looked over to Wasabi, who had a similar expression of surprise, before turning back to answer.

            "Well actually, my aunt owns the café and usually runs it as well, but she's..." Hiro paused, but decided it couldn't hurt for anyone to know, "She's in the hospital at the moment, so I'm taking care of it for now."

            "Must be difficult, huh?"

            "It's not too bad," Hiro laughed, "It's kinda fun most of the time. It certainly keeps me busy."

            The guy nodded in understanding, causing red hair fall over his eyes, which he absentmindedly pushed away from his face. He looked like he was going to say more, but instead turned to leave, muttering a quick goodbye.

            "Come back soon!" Hiro automatically recited the line Aunt Cass had drilled into him when he was younger in the hope that his cuteness would make customers want to come back.

            The guy nodded before going out the door, letting it shut behind him with the jingle of bells that had been hung to alert Hiro when someone walked into the café. Apparently, spacing out and forcing a customer to address you first is considered bad customer service.

            Looking around the now empty café, Hiro estimated that he had a couple hours before the bulk of the meager Monday lunch crowd arrived. He grabbed a sandwich for himself, and Wasabi created and ate some vegetarian configuration of foods that Hiro didn’t even know what to call. It was still before noon, and Hiro wondered if Tadashi had woken up yet.

            They both finished their food, and Hiro started cleaning the dishes he had piled in the sink. Wasabi wiped down each of the vacated tables, before turning to Hiro.

            "Do you think you’ll need any more help today?" He wouldn’t leave if Hiro actually needed him, but finals were in a month and every bit of preparation was important.

            "No, you can leave if you want. I’m sure you’re busy." Hiro washed the unbroken cups, stacking them neatly with the others. “Thanks for helping out again.”

            "No problem." The door announced Wasabi's departure, leaving Hiro alone in the cafe.

            Hiro dried the last dish and was in the process of putting it away when his cellphone rang. A modified clip of "Sail" denoted Wasabi's particular ringtone, which he claimed to dislike, though he secretly found it as amusing as the others had when they heard it for the first time.

            - 'blame it on my OCD, baby' –

            Hiro wondered what Wasabi might have forgotten, and pulled his cell out of his pocket to answer it.

            "Hel-"

            "I ALMOST RAN HIM OVER! ohmygod, I didn't see him and he got hit and I need help, Hiro!" Wasabi yelled over the phone at a frantic pace, making Hiro hold it away from his ear to protect his hearing.

            Wait, Wasabi hit someone? Hiro was almost out the door when he realized he didn't know where he was supposed to go.

            "Where are you?"

            "Just down the street from the café. Hurry."

            Hiro left the store quickly, almost forgetting to lock it behind him in his haste, and ran down the street.

            He quickly found Wasabi crouching next to the red-haired guy from earlier. He didn't seem too badly hurt, since he was sitting up on his own, but he was cradling his arm in such a way that suggested an injury.

            Even at the distance he was from the two, Hiro could hear Wasabi frantically asking various questions about his injuries, such as whether or not he had a headache. Hiro pitied the guy, getting hit by a car and then having to deal with Wasabi's neurotic tendencies was a bad way for anyone to start their day.

            As he approached the pair, Gogo pulled up on her bike, having been on her way to the café.

             "What happened here?" She stopped, leaning over Wasabi's shoulder to see. The guy's face was twisted in pain; dark red blood seeped through the sleeve of his untorn shirt. Wasabi still seemed convinced a concussion was involved.

            "Can you remember your name? Spell it for me, er... in English letters."

            "Kyouji Shakuzai. K-Y-O-U-J-I..."

            "Seriously, what happened?"

            "Not now, Gogo."

            Hiro decided that it would be faster to have Baymax look over him before they tried taking him to the notoriously busy hospital nearby.

            "Alright, let's get him back to the café to see Baymax."

            "Hey, wait-"

            Wasabi easily lifted Kyouji to his feet, despite his protests. He was careful not to jar the injured arm, which Kyouji was keeping very close to his body, while shepherding him towards the café.  Hiro ran ahead to unlock the door before running upstairs to get Baymax.

            Wasabi led Kyouji to the back room and set him down on a crate just as Hiro was walking down the stairs with the charging station in his arms. Hiro had been careful to not disturb Tadashi's sleep; the kid was still out cold.

            "Hello? Gogo? Where is every-" Honey Lemon walked into the back room to see if Gogo, who she had agreed to meet for lunch, was back there. "Oh my gosh, what happened?"

            She was in front of Kyouji in a flash, looking at the arm he was still shielding and holding close to his side. She didn’t exactly wait for a response.

            “You said your name was Kyouji, right?”

            “Yeah... you’re- Honey Lemon,” Kyouji chuckled humorlessly. “We really need to stop meeting like this.”

            “Wait, you know him?” Gogo still didn’t know what happened, but she was determined to get at least one of her questions answered.

            “Sort of, we’ve run into each other before.”

            “Literally.” It was said under his breath, but everyone was close enough to hear it.

            Kyouji was looking nervously at the crate Hiro had set on the floor and was clearly becoming agitated by the number of people in the small space with him. Hiro guessed the shock was wearing off and their guest was wondering why they hadn’t taken him to the hospital yet.

            "Ow." Hiro said flatly, causing Baymax to quickly inflate. "I need you to scan-"

            He stopped midsentence once he turned around to see Kyouji. Golden eyes were wide in panic; his breathing quickened and became shallow. Kyouji shook his head violently, trying to back away, but the crate didn’t leave much room for maneuvering. He was visibly shaking.

            Hiro was confused as to why he'd be scared; though admittedly Baymax wasn’t exactly something you saw everyday. Tadashi had built Baymax in a non-threatening way to avoid scaring people, but it looked like this guy was about to have a panic attack.

            "He seems to be in distress. I will scan-"

            "No, Baymax. I'm satisfied with my care." Hiro tried to do damage control by deactivating him quickly.

            "But he is clearly injured," Baymax protested. Hiro had made it so Baymax was better at following instructions, but he still questioned them sometimes.

            "Baymax," Hiro said firmly, "I am satisfied with my care."

            "Yes, Master Hiro." Baymax deflated, and Kyouji visibly relaxed.

            "We can take you to a hospital." Honey Lemon put her hand on his uninjured shoulder, intending to lead him out.

            "No, I'm okay. Really.” He let his arm fall and moved his fingers, wincing slightly. “Nothing's broken; it’s just a few scrapes. I'll be fine." He stood up as worried looks were passed around the group.

            "You should at least get checked..." Wasabi tried to insist, but Kyouji simply shook his head again.

            "Really, I'm fine... Thanks though." He looked like he wanted to bolt, cautiously looking at the group surrounding him.

             Hiro nearly laughed at how uncomfortable Kyouji looked, thinking it was lucky for him Fred hadn’t come as well. His group tended to be a bit overbearing at times.

            Honey Lemon reluctantly moved out of the way and Kyouji was finally able to escape the circle that had formed around him. He slightly waved goodbye with his uninjured arm before quickly leaving the café.

            “So, what happened?” If Gogo was anything, she was persistent.

            Wasabi sighed deeply, leaning against the doorframe.

            “Okay, so it wasn’t really my fault-“

            “Wait, you did that? This I’ve got to hear.” Gogo reached for her phone in order to record whatever Wasabi was going to say in his defense. This was going to be good.

            “Gogo! Is that really necessary?” Wasabi was not pleased.

            “Yes.” She held it out towards him in a way reminiscent of a reporter during an interview. “Start talking.”

            “No, but- ugh.” Running a hand down his face, Wasabi quickly tried gather his thoughts.

            “Okay, so I left the café, and I was going to head home to study for finals. I checked my mirrors like five times, but as I pulled forward, he walked out from in front of this delivery truck that was dropping something off down the street. I wasn’t going very quickly yet, but it was so sudden that even after applying the breaks... I hit him.”

            “You hit someone with your car?”

            “It was an accident! What was I supposed to do?”

            Hiro finally cracked and started laughing.

            “I’m sorry,” he wheezed, “this shouldn’t be funny.” But he couldn’t stop, even after valiant effort.

            “It isn’t. He could have been seriously hurt. Heck, he probably is hurt worse than he showed. Why didn’t we just force him to the hospital?” Wasabi probably could have managed it.

            Tadashi picked this moment to come down the stairs, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

            "What's everyone doing here?" he murmured, still waking up. “What hospit- ow!” Not paying attention combined with being half-asleep resulted in a stubbed toe on Baymax's charging station.

            Baymax inflated once again to check on Tadashi.

            "He's fine, Baymax." Hiro patted Baymax on the back as he passed Tadashi to make more coffee. The lunch crowd was due to arrive sooner than he’d like.

            "Is there anyone else you do not wish for me to treat, Master Hiro?"

            “I am satisfied with my care, Baymax.”

            He deflated once again as Tadashi approached Hiro.

            “Again with the ‘master’?” Tadashi seemed a little upset, reminding Hiro that he was still angry about the other ‘upgrades’ he'd done to Baymax.

            "It was a joke." Hiro tried explaining, but the stare he got didn't lighten up. Tadashi just sighed and grabbed a blueberry muffin from the counter, wondering how much Hiro had corrupted Baymax by just being Hiro.

            "It's not that big of a deal." Hiro mumbled as the coffee machine started, drowning out any other noise.

 

Chapter Text

            Nabbing a bottle of water from an unsuspecting street vendor, Kyouji tried to rinse the taste of the coffee he had just finished from his mouth. It was useful in waking him up, but the aftertaste left something to be desired.

            Water should be free anyway.

            He finished the bottle and pulled his sorry excuse for a cell phone out of his pocket; he had a call to make. Kyouji heard four rings before the person on the other side picked up.

            “One day in and you’re already calling for back-up? Wow, Jadoku. You’re slipping.”

            “Don’t be stupid; why would I choose you to back me up, Himitsu?”

            “Well, I was gonna say that I’d be the least likely to stab you in the back, but after that comment...”

            Kyouji rolled his eyes, tossing the bottle into a trashcan he passed before leaning against a wall just off the street. He didn’t want to be too far from the café quite yet.

            “So, what did you call for? D’you need more syringes already?”

            “No, not yet.” Kyouji reached into his pocket to reassure himself that the two syringes were still there. “Besides, you know I can’t front you the cash until I finish the job.”

             People don’t carry cash with them the way they used to.

            Sustaining himself would be a lot easier if he could depend on a mark having cash on them, rather than worrying about whether or not something they were carrying would be worth anything. Credit cards are worse than useless, as people are so paranoid now-a-days that they could and probably would have all of their cards deactivated within minutes of discovering they no longer had their wallet.

            Himitsu laughed over the phone.

            “That’s right, I remember. Yama won’t let you fence anything until you get the kid. Y’know, if you brought me something, I could get it sold; so long as I get some of the profit.”

            By ‘some,’ of course he meant upwards of 90%, but Kyouji knew that in a pinch it would be better than nothing.

            “I’ll keep that in mind, but I actually had a different favor to ask of you.” Kyouji paused, considering how much information he wanted to divulge. “Could you forge a couple of reference sheets for me? Just some low key jobs and something that would pass a background check on criminal records.”

            “Considering you’ve never seen the inside of an actual prison cell -and no, a holding cell doesn’t count- that second part should be easy enough. What are you going to do for payment?”

            Here Kyouji hoped past business would pay off.

            “I know it’s not how you normally operate, but could I pay you post-job just this once?” Kyouji pushed his hair back with his free hand, knowing that refusal would make his half-baked plan far more difficult, if not impossible.

            There was a pause on the other side of the line, and Kyouji had just about given up hope when Himitsu finally spoke up.

            “I suppose I could, just this once, but the rate will be higher. It’s not like you could avoid paying me, even if you wanted to.”

            Kyouji let his shoulders fall in relief, but Himitsu wasn’t finished.

            “However, I must insist that you tell me what you’re going to use this for. Information is valuable.”

            He guessed he could divulge some of the information; he would just keep some of the key details to himself.

            “So, Yama told me I would find the kid at this one café, but so far I’ve only seen him there once. His... caretaker, I guess, runs the place with only one other worker. They’re clearly swamped.”      

            “I’m not sure I like where this is going...”

            “Just hear me out. I need some source of income until this job is done, and I could use another way of figuring out how best to complete it.”

            “And what makes you think they’ll hire you? Isn’t that what got you in this mess in the first place?”

            Yes, thank you for the reminder.

            His father had threatened to kick him out at eighteen if he didn’t start bringing home some form of rent. He’d failed to find a job, and betting on bot fights wasn’t a stable form of income (especially if you didn’t have much to bet in the first place). However, he’d always had the innate skill of going unnoticed, until recently.

            “They definitely won’t if you don’t get me those papers.”

            “Your choice, man. So long as I get paid in the end. I don’t see why you don’t just swoop in, grab him, and run. You’re quick enough.”

            “It really doesn’t work like that, unless he wanders off on his own. He’s got quite the group around him. I’m fairly certain one of the girls could gut me before I made it out the door.”

            “And you’re sure you don’t need back-up?”

            “Not yet, at least.”

            “If you say so. Oh! One more thing. I don’t guess you want me to put ‘Jadoku’ in the name category.”

            Kyouji felt like hitting his head against the wall behind him. He had realized he had introduced himself to a member of their group as ‘Kyouji’, meaning that whatever forms he gave them had to match.

            “Yeah, no, that won’t work. Do you have some paper right now?” An affirmative noise was given.

            “Put...” He paused, feigning thinking, “Kyouji. K-Y-O-U-J-I. And for the last name Shakuzai, S-H-A-K-U-Z-A-I.”

            “Got it. Dang. Hope they don’t speak Japanese.”

            Well...

            “You sure that’s the one you want?”

            Kyouji nearly laughed. If only he knew.

            “Yeah. That’s it.”

            “Alright, I’ll get started.”

            “Sounds good. Bye.”

            “Ja ne.”

            Kyouji ended the call and put his phone back into his pocket, deciding that he was done until he had those papers. Rejoining the flow of pedestrians, he noticed a couple of men carrying what had to be the ugliest couch in existence out of the back of a delivery van. He skirted around them, looking back as he started to cross the street.

            Who would even buy that?

            Kyouji caught movement in the corner of his eye, realizing he was in the street, and stumbled back as the sound of screeching brakes filled his ears.

            The collision wasn’t nearly as painful as he had expected, even with his natural defense, but it was enough to knock him off his feet. He landed roughly on his left arm, skidding on the asphalt so that his sleeve was pushed up and his skin was torn from his wrist to his elbow.

            Momentarily dazed, Kyouji unsteadily pushed himself up to a sitting position with a groan and was quick to pull his sleeve down to cover the green scales that were beginning to scab over the wound. His heart was hammering from adrenalin, and he could vaguely hear a frantic voice trying to get his attention.

            There is no threat. I am not threatened. I do not need protection.

            His main focus was on stopping the spread of the scales before they became too noticeable. If he could calm down, they would only tend to the injury. Otherwise, they would continue to manifest until he felt safe.

            It helped that he didn’t taste any blood, which meant his instincts hadn’t activated enough to cause his... well, he guessed he’d call them fangs, to flick down from the roof of his mouth. It was a stupid reflex that occurred when he was attacked and really only resulted in slicing open his tongue and getting in the way.

            Thank goodness scales didn’t manifest inside his mouth. It would make eating a pain.

            The slight itch that accompanied the scales’ appearance disappeared as his mind wandered and he calmed down. All that was left were sharp, bruise-like aches along his arm and the side where the van had hit him. Those were not going away any time soon.

            Finally taking inventory of his surroundings, he noticed someone practically screeching into their cell phone. A familiar someone. Seriously?

            “-down the street from the café. Hurry.”

            Well, that was his cue to leave.

            Kyouji attempted to stand, but his vision rushed black at the change in altitude. He was quick to return to his previous position. 

            Nope. Sitting is good. Just going to sit here for a while, no problem.

            Kyouji blinked repeatedly to clear his vision, since shaking his head wasn’t likely to be a good idea. He went to lean on his left arm, but quickly retracted it, cradling it as pain shot up his arm, starting at the wrist and lancing up through his shoulder.

            “Whoa, hey. Don’t try to move.”

            The large man crouched down to his level, and Kyouji confirmed that yes, this was the guy that had been working with Hiro at the café. Wonderful. Was this group trying to kill him already? Though, he did apply the brakes...

            “Can you clearly hear what I’m saying?”

            Kyouji nodded. He hadn’t hit his head, and the movement caused only the slightest dizziness.

            “My name is Wasabi, and I’m going to ask you a couple questions. Can you move your feet, do you feel any sharp pains upon moving, do you feel nauseous, can you see clearly, did you hit your head at all, do you have a headache?”

            Well, now I do.

            The rapid-fire questions caught him off-guard, and the degree of panic in his tone of voice made Kyouji himself anxious.

            “Um... yes, not really, no, yes, no...” Kyouji was interrupted when the woman that had taken Tadashi rollerblading pulled up on her bike. He shifted slightly to pull his injured arm closer to his chest, wincing as he did so and noticed blood was becoming apparent through his miraculously untorn sleeve. That would have made this much more difficult. 

            “What happened here?”

            Wasabi (who has a name like that?) ignored her, and continued asking questions.

            “Can you remember your name? Spell it for me, er... in English letters.”

            No, really. I was going to name the kanji, maybe paint it out on the sidewalk with my blood.

            “Kyouji Shakuzai. K-Y-O-U-J-I...” This felt familiar.

            “Seriously, what happened?”

            “Not now, Gogo.” However, he seemed satisfied that Kyouji was capable of the necessary mental abilities.

            Kyouji hadn’t even noticed that Hiro had walked up to the group before he spoke, and started slightly at his voice.

            “Alright, let’s get him back to the café to see Baymax.”

            Wait, that robot-box thing? Wasn’t the normal thing to take someone to the hospital or at least call an ambulance or something? Not that he would have gone, but still. 

            “Hey, wait-“

            Apparently the request made sense to the others in the group, as Wasabi practically picked him up to set him on his feet. Kyouji was glad he didn’t touch his arm; if the blood were introduced to even the slightest paper cut, it wouldn’t end well. Maybe he should start wearing a shirt with a ‘Biohazard’ symbol stamped to the front.

            Hiro ran ahead as Wasabi led him to the café, the scary woman following closely behind. He was led to the back room that he had wondered about the previous day, and sure enough, at the end of the room was a flight of stairs.

            Wasabi led him to a crate, which he sat down on, keeping his arm close to his body. He noticed Hiro struggling to carry a large crate from the top of the stairs when he heard another familiar voice. Oh, no.

            “Hello? Gogo?”

            Who the heck was Gogo? Kyouji glanced at the woman who had leaned against one of the shelves and was popping her gum, who had instinctively looked towards the door at the name. Maybe...

            “Where is every-“ A tall figure entered the doorway, stopping mid-sentence when she spotted the group. “Oh my gosh, what happened?”

            She was suddenly right in front of him. Who could even move that fast while wearing heels like that?

            “You said your name was Kyouji, right?”

            He was glad he stuck with it, since she apparently had an excellent memory. She even pronounced it right.

            “Yeah... you’re-“ it was something weird that had to do with food, “Honey Lemon.”

            He had apparently remembered right, because she smiled slightly. He chuckled at the absurdity of the situation; this made three times.

            “We really need to stop meeting like this.”

            Her grin widened, and she ducked her head slightly.

            “Wait, you know him?”

            Gogo, at least that was how he would refer to her until told otherwise, seemed mildly annoyed at the situation. Honey turned towards her, shrugging slightly as Hiro set the crate down with an audible ‘thump’.

            “Sort of, we’ve run into each other before.”

            “Literally.

            Wait, did he say that out loud? Reactivating brain-to-mouth filter. Glancing over at the crate, he felt a sense of trepidation come over him. It didn’t help that there were already four other people in the cramped back room, and nobody seemed willing to move towards the stairs to give him some space.

            He couldn’t risk any of them getting his blood directly on them, though it would take an injury on their part to hurt them. Why was he there? Sure, they were nice enough, but it wasn’t like... wait.

            His mind raced back to the previous day when Hiro had insisted Gogo take Baymax with her. How it had activated after Tadashi had taken the spill. It was meant to treat injuries.

            Kyouji wanted to bolt; he was so stupid. If the robot tried to help him, everyone would see the scales, and that would not go over well. He started to panic internally. How could he get out of this one without freaking everyone out?
            “Ow.” Hiro’s odd statement was answered when a large marshmallow-like figure rose out of the box. “I need you to scan-“

            Wait, scan? That was worse!

            Hiro had turned towards him, but paused when he looked at him, seeming mildly concerned at the fearful look he was receiving. Kyouji decided he would play it up a bit. He was terrified, but not of the robot, per se. Maybe he could convince him it was a bad idea. He let the adrenalin flow to the rest of his body, causing him to shake slightly.

            Letting his terror show, he shook his head violently, backing away in a clear representation of, No, I don’t want that thing near me.

            Please work.

            “He seems to be in distress. I will scan-“

            It can talk?

            “No, Baymax.” Thank God. “I’m satisfied with my care.”

            But he didn’t receive any care, why would he say that?

            “But he is clearly injured.”

            Was this robot arguing with Hiro?

            “Baymax, I am satisfied with my care.” Hiro said it with a sense of finality. The robot agreed, deactivated, and folded back down. Interesting.

            Kyouji let himself relax. That was one problem taken care of. Then Honey Lemon spoke up.

            “We can take you to a hospital.”

            Finally, a normal response to hitting someone with your car, but he still couldn’t accept.

            “No, I’m okay. Really.” The bleeding had stopped, and the wound was firmly closed as his shirt stuck to the scales on his arm. He straightened his arm, moving his fingers slightly, wincing as the bruised muscles pulled.

            Yeah, that was convincing.

            “Nothing’s broken; it’s just a few scrapes. I’ll be fine.” Kyouji stood up, determined to leave on his own if they wouldn’t suggest it.

            “You should at least get checked...” Wasabi looked genuinely concerned, which was a novelty to Kyouji.

            “Really, I’m fine... Thanks though.”

            Looking around the group, he didn’t see a direct path to the exit, and pushing someone aside wasn’t an option. Thankfully, Honey Lemon moved out of the way, and he made his way out of the room.

            Pausing at the doorway, he raised his right hand in a slight wave goodbye; there was no reason to seem outright unfriendly. He received a small wave in response from Honey Lemon and a nod from Gogo before quickly leaving the café.

            Well, that could have gone worse. Kyouji wondered if he should still go through with his plan to get a job at the café, but decided he would stick with his course of action. At least they didn’t think he was a freak. Yet.

Chapter Text

            Tadashi hung around the counter as Hiro filled orders for the handful of lunch customers. He received multiple comments on how cute he was, especially from the female population. They never addressed him directly, though Hiro consistently introduced him as his brother; Tadashi noticed he avoided using the term ‘little’.

            He looked over at the table where Gogo, Honey, and Wasabi were chatting animatedly, likely teasing Wasabi for the events of the day. Apparently, Wasabi had nearly run over the guy Tadashi and Honey Lemon had met at Best Buy. The team had tried to treat him with Baymax, but he’d panicked and left the store as soon as they let him.

            Even though he had initially felt uneasy around him, Tadashi pitied Kyouji. Getting hit by a car and then basically dragged off of the street into the back room of a café had to be stressful. No wonder he had been so quick to leave.

            He was troubled at his reaction to Baymax; he had tried to design him so that no one being treated would feel threatened. Of course, Hiro had completely ignored that when he designed armor for him.

            Tadashi’s thoughts returned to a particular part of the conversation the group had had the night before. They were obviously keeping something from him, something important. Hiro had been so angry, and then... the subject had been dropped... too easily, really.

            Tadashi waited until the last customer in line had been served and left the café before approaching Hiro at the sink.

            “What’s up?” Hiro dried his hands on the front of his apron and looked down at Tadashi, wondering at the contemplative look on his face.

            “What won’t you tell me?” The infamous puppy eyes made an appearance.

            Hiro mentally tried to figure out which thing Tadashi was referring to. Maybe he should make a file of ‘Things Not to Tell Tadashi.’ No, then Tadashi’d manage to find it.

            Hiro realized he had paused for too long when Tadashi’s eyebrows pinched together in anger. Hiro scrambled to fix his mistake, even though he still wasn’t 100% certain which particular thing Tadashi was referring to. He heard the jingle of the door opening, but he couldn’t see who it was from where he stood.

            “Hey, um. Could you let me go talk them for just a second?” Hiro gestured towards the front counter as he tried to ease his way past Tadashi. “Besides, we really shouldn’t do anything unless the whole group is present, and Fred’s not here, so...”

            Wrong thing to say.

            “No!” Tadashi grabbed Hiro’s sleeve; though he could easily escape Tadashi’s grip, it wasn’t a good idea in this instance. “Stop avoiding it! You’re just going to keep putting it off, hoping I’ll forget about it, but I’m not going to!”

            Why couldn’t he wait until later to ask? Hiro didn’t have time to deal with this right now.

            “Tadashi, you’re making a scene. Just go upstairs.”

            Tadashi pulled back and crossed his arms, glaring defiantly up at Hiro.

            “You can’t order me around!” Tadashi practically shrieked this, and Hiro physically took a step back, feeling disoriented. What the hell, Tadashi? “Last I checked, you were the one keeping secrets from me. And I-”

            “Everything okay back here, guys?”

            Wasabi had heard raised voices, and had come to investigate. Tadashi looked like he was going to say something, but Hiro spoke first, receiving a glare from the five year old.

            “Yeah, we’re... it’s fine. Could you go take care of the customer who just walked in?”

            “Don’t worry about it, it’s just Fred. He had nothing better to do this afternoon and came to hang out with us.”

            Tadashi turned to Hiro, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head towards the main area of the café. They were all present now. What was stopping him?

            Fred chose this moment to come bursting into the kitchen, obliviously picking up a still angry Tadashi obliviously and spinning him around. Tadashi was too shocked to say anything beyond a small sound of surprise when he left the ground.

            “Wow, you’re light! So, have your wings popped out yet?”

            “No! Put me down!”

            “But then I have to talk down to you. Besides, you’re warm and it was cold outside.”

            “Yes, I’m sure riding here in your limo was such a hardship,” Hiro snarked at Fred, though he was glad that he had arrived to distract Tadashi.

            “I will have you know that I deigned to walk here, just to be with my friends, but if that’s how you’re going to be...” Fred started to walk towards the door, still holding Tadashi, “I guess I’ll just be leaving. And I’m taking my mini-heater with me.”

            Rolling his eyes at Fred, Hiro followed the group back to the table Gogo and Honey were still seated at. Fred plopped Tadashi down into one of the open chairs before pulling one up for himself. Hiro went to switch the sign on the door to ‘Closed.’

            Hiro wasn’t really sure how to broach the topic, but a look from Tadashi told him he needed to, and quickly. Fred, however, spoke up first.

            “So, I was thinking-”

             “Congratulations, Fred.”

            “Hush, Gogo. Anyway, so I was wondering if Callaghan had something to do with- Ow!” A noticeable kick under the table interrupted Fred.

            If looks could kill, Gogo would have been guilty of murder; Honey Lemon looked worriedly at Hiro; Wasabi looked down at his hands. Tadashi just looked confused.

            “What’s the big deal?” Tadashi got the feeling this was in the realm of ‘don’t tell Tadashi,’ but he couldn’t figure out why. Nobody reacted like that to Fred’s crackpot theories, unless... maybe it had to do with the mention of Callaghan.

            “Is this about Professor Callaghan?”

            Gogo leaned back in her seat, looking at Hiro as if she were silently ordering him to start explaining.

            “Not exactly a professor, anymore.”

            Hiro’s comment confused Tadashi. “Well, he couldn’t be if he- wait, he survived too? ...Why are you guys looking at me like that?”

            No one answered, each trying to think of what to say.

            “Seriously, guys. What’s going on? Is he okay? Is he dying?”

            Hiro let out an unstable and borderline hysteric string of laughter, dropping his head into his hands. This only worried Tadashi more.

            “Guys?”

            “Tadashi-“ Honey Lemon started to speak, but cut herself off, not really knowing what to say. They all knew how Tadashi had looked up to Callaghan as his role model, even a father figure in the absence of his own.

            “Hiro?” Tadashi turned to him, staring him down as much as a five year old could, demanding an explanation.

            “Well, he is alive and healthy.” Hiro didn’t look too pleased about it, though.

            “So, what aren’t you telling me?”

            Gogo sighed in exasperation, leaning forward in her seat and looking Tadashi square in the eyes.

            “We think that Callaghan was the one to start the fire in the first place.”

            “What?” That couldn’t be right. “Why would you say that? Where’s your proof?”

            “And that-“ Hiro interjected, “is exactly what his lawyer asked when he was taken to trial.”

            “Trial?

            “Apparently, ‘motive doesn’t equal a crime.’ And what was that other thing he kept saying that made me want to punch him in the face? Oh, yeah: ‘no body, no crime.’”

            “But why would he even be on trial in the first place? And what do you mean by motive?”

            It didn't make sense; Callaghan loved the school, he cared for the students. Why would he want to start a fire to destroy everyone’s creations?

            “He needed my microbots.”

            Tadashi just looked at him like he’d lost his mind.

            “I- what?”

            “He tried to use Hiro’s microbots to get revenge on Krei for causing his daughter Abigail’s apparent death.” Fred spoke up now, only causing more questions to arise in Tadashi’s mind.

            “Wait, tried? Revenge? Apparent death?” Tadashi felt a pit grow in his chest, dread threatening to suffocate him. “I- He... no- he couldn't have..."

            Honey Lemon sympathetically put an arm around Tadashi’s shoulders, running her fingers through his short hair in a comforting gesture as she began to recount the events that had followed his disappearance, letting Hiro fill in the details of things she hadn’t been present for.

            Multiple instances made Tadashi want to interrupt and ask questions or reprimand Hiro for a particularly dangerous occurrence, but he mostly stayed silent, weighing each detail in his mind. He nearly had a conniption at the description of Gogo’s driving when they were being chased. The only thing that stopped him was the quick explanation that it had saved their lives, and Baymax had been there to pull them out of the water.

            Tadashi marveled at the description of each of their ‘upgrades,’ looking at Hiro when Baymax’s were described along with the chip containing the fighting instructions on it. Hiro had conveniently failed to mention it earlier.

             He did, however, interrupt when Honey described the events on the island.

            "Wait." He stopped her before turning to Hiro angrily. "You tried to kill Callaghan?"

             "Tada-"

            "KILL? Hiro, you don't kill people! He-"

            "He let you die!" Hiro's face grew red as he abruptly stood to his feet, knocking the chair he was sitting on over. "He didn't care about you! He said it was your mistake.”

            Tadashi looked as if he had been struck, orange tears pooling in the corners of his eyes, though they couldn’t heal this injury. He opened his mouth to protest, but Hiro wasn’t finished.

            “What was I supposed to do? Take him to the police, who ended up doing nothing? Let him go? For practically killing my brother who meant everything to me?"

            Hiro's voice had risen to a yell, and he was shaking, tears forming in his eyes, which he brushed away angrily. Tadashi hadn’t seen Hiro get this upset in a long time, and it scared him.

            "Put yourself in my situation. Our parents died when I was three, and you became everything to me. Then one day you're gone, and the bastard who caused it doesn’t even care? Mocks it, even! Am I just supposed to get over it, when I have the power to get back at him?"

            Tadashi tried to imagine losing Hiro, but it only made him more upset, and he was dangerously close to outright crying.

            “I-I’m sorry. You have every right to be upset.” Tadashi choked on the words. “It was still wrong to try and kill him. I- this is my fault. I shouldn’t hav-”

            “No. Don’t you ever say that, you understand?” Hiro looked positively murderous, though he made a visible effort to calm down. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

            Hiro sighed, pushing at his closed eyes with the heels of his hands before righting the chair he had knocked over and sitting back down.

            “You’re right that killing Callaghan wasn’t the answer, which I realized for myself a while after the team stopped me and I left without them. I was replacing Baymax’s scanner, and I lost it when Baymax kept saying, “Tadashi is here” and refused to let me remove his healthcare chip that stopped him from hurting a human.”

            Good robot.

            “Baymax showed me some videos from when you were testing him-”

            Bad robot.

            “You saw those?” Tadashi buried his face in his hands in embarrassment as everyone laughed, the tension dissipating.

            “Yeah.” Hiro struggled to stop laughing to continue what he was going to say. “Anyway, they made me realize that you would never want me to kill someone, and I started to feel really guilty, especially when the team showed up after being rescued by Heathcliff.”

            “I honestly preferred the helicopter to flying on Baymax- no offense.” Wasabi had always had a great fear of heights, particularly falling from them.

            There was silence for a while, no one really knowing what to say, until Tadashi spoke again.

            “So, where is he now? I mean, you said he wasn’t a professor anymore, but you also said the police didn’t do anything, and there was a trial, so...”

            Hiro sighed before explaining the rest of the story: the attack on Krei Tech, and the use of the portal. He paused slightly before telling him about how he had gone into the portal to save Abigail, and how Baymax had gotten left behind, though he had been able to recreate him when he had found the chip.

            Tadashi seemed initially upset at how careless Hiro had been, though he admitted it was the right thing to do, and that he was proud of him. But his question still hadn’t been answered, and he repeated it.

            “He’s probably home right now, with his daughter. He wasn’t found guilty for anything.”

            "Nothing? At all? How is that possible? You said he destroyed Krei Tech. With witnesses."

            “And he did. He just had a really good lawyer.”

            Tadashi sat back, ready to hear the explanation. Hiro took a calming breath before beginning.

            The lawyer had started by dispelling claims that the professor had set the fire, since there was only circumstantial proof, and no one had witnessed it beginning. It was therefore decided that he could not be charged with arson or the unintentional manslaughter of Tadashi.

            Then came the part that had really angered Hiro. Since Hiro’s neurocranial transmitter was just a working prototype in the realm of science, Callaghan’s lawyer argued that no one could prove the effects it would have on a human being. There was also no way to test it, since it had been destroyed during the fight at Krei Tech.

            It was insisted that after Callaghan put it on to protect himself from the fire, long-term exposure altered his brainwave patterns, heightening emotions both common and repressed and basically giving him temporary insanity. It was temporary, the lawyer had claimed, because Callaghan had returned to his normal self after he had removed it for a while, expressing disbelief at his own actions.

            Apparently, Callaghan could have even continued teaching at SFIT, but chose to retire instead in order to spend more time with his long-lost daughter.

            Tadashi turned these thoughts over in his head. They could be true, though it was highly unlikely. However, one couldn’t exactly disprove it either. He wondered how Callaghan would react now, if he were to see him again.

            “I know you’re probably not going to like this, but... could we possibly go visit him?” Tadashi turned towards Hiro, since it was ultimately up to him.

            Hiro blew air between his teeth, pulling on his sleeve as he considered the question. A mischievous grin grew on his face, one that unsettled Tadashi.

            “You know what? Yeah. I can’t wait to see his face when you introduce yourself. Hey, Gogo, do you still keep in touch with Abigail?”

            “Yeah. Honey and I hung out with her just last week.”

            “Cool. Could you call her and let her know we’re stopping by to visit?”

            “Right now?”

            Hiro checked his watch; it was almost 2 in the afternoon.

            “Yeah, now would be good.”   

 

Chapter Text

            The drive to Callaghan’s house was completely quiet; even Fred failed to fill the silence as the team anticipated the inevitable confrontation. Honey Lemon was driving, since Wasabi was convinced the earlier accident proved that he needed to avoid driving for a while, so Gogo didn’t even have someone to gripe at to reduce the tense atmosphere.

            Tadashi was in the back, seated between Hiro and Fred, where he couldn’t even distract himself by looking out the window. He fiddled with the edge of his red scarf, which both Honey and Hiro had insisted he wear, even though he didn’t think it was cold outside.

            In fact, he hadn’t felt so much as a chill in a while, long enough to start to worry about it. The first couple of days after he had returned had been plagued with near-constant frigidity, but suddenly, every trace was gone. He noted that he didn’t feel particularly warm either.

            Tadashi focused on these thoughts to try and ignore the growing anxiety about the upcoming visit, but his mind inevitably strayed back to it. Running his scarf along the palm of his hand, Tadashi tried to picture the professor he had known hurting someone. He tried to see him in his mind’s eye deliberately harming someone for the sake of— of revenge. The image simply didn’t compute.

            Sure, he had seen the professor –no, not professor...not anymore- angry before, but it had always been a cold, disappointed anger. Hands tucked in his pockets, Callaghan had always been one to use words –biting words that left shame stuck to your throat, bound to your lungs, wrapped around your heart, because you knew they were true- to express his ire. But physically attacking someone? Never.

            Though technically, he had used mental attacks, which had caused something else to physically attack, which was closer to being a mob boss... Tadashi shook his head, earning a concerned look from Hiro, but nothing more. He wished he could turn his brain off, at least until he was standing in front of Callaghan and it was too late to try to back out.

            Not that Hiro would let him get out of it. He had quickly latched onto the idea, seeing it as a way to get back at Callaghan, if only a little. The extent that Hiro seemed to hate Dr. Callaghan worried Tadashi, and he wondered if Hiro’s presence would make the reunion worse for both parties.

            Tadashi hadn’t exactly thought this one through. He decided that he would probably have just avoided Callaghan for the rest of his life if he had taken the time to think about it. Now that he was already on the way, there wasn’t much he could do, especially since he wasn’t sure he wanted to back out when he was almost there.

            Looking out the window, Tadashi felt his gut clench and his lungs tighten as he noticed they were pulling to a stop in front of an unassuming two-story house. Driving by, he wouldn’t have been able to pick it out of the rows of others; though it was obviously well kept, nothing seemed to indicate that there was anything special about it or its occupants.

            The doors of the van opened, and the group began to file out. Tadashi paused in the doorway, nearly losing his nerve, but Hiro nudged him from behind, and he climbed out onto the sidewalk. He didn’t go much farther, though.

            “You okay?”

            Tadashi turned to Wasabi and saw that, yes, he was addressing him. He glanced towards Hiro’s back, since he had gone ahead towards the door before looking back to his friend.

            “Please don’t make me answer that.”

            Wasabi dropped the subject, though not before sending a worried look his way, and the two went to join the group as they neared the door. Tadashi felt a growing need to hide behind someone.

            Hiro reached out, and was about to ring the doorbell when the door abruptly opened.

            Dr. Callaghan had clearly been on his way out; a winter coat was draped over his shoulders, gloves covered his hands, and he was in the process of putting a slip of paper into one of his coat pockets.

            Looking up, he noticed Hiro, and gave an involuntary sigh of exasperation. Tadashi, who had hidden himself behind Wasabi, had to wonder what could have caused such an automatic response.

            “Hey, gramps, had any psychotic episodes lately?”

            Tadashi felt his jaw drop in shock. Hiro!

            Callaghan chose not to respond to the question, attempting to move past Hiro, who was effectively blocking the doorway.

            “If you’ll allow me to pass, I was just leaving. I’m sure you lot are here to see Abigail.”

            Hiro stepped directly in his path again, with an impish grin on his face. “Actually, we’re here on a routine check-up. Have you been feeling any sudden urges to murder someone recently?”

            Tadashi looked on, appalled. Hiro never acted like this; was he trying to rile him up?

            ...Probably.

            Tadashi wondered if he should have come on his own, or maybe not at all. Looking at the other members of the group, they didn’t seem too surprised, though Honey Lemon looked a little worried.

            Callaghan didn’t become as angry as Tadashi would have expected, though it was clear he was getting annoyed. Maybe Hiro should just get out of the way; they could come back another time.

            Callaghan didn’t raise his voice, but the tone with which he spoke gave it a sharp edge. “You really need to let that go. It was five years ago. Stop bothering me, and get over it.”

            “What, like you did, along with everyone else around here? I wonder what Tadashi would think of that...” Hiro paused, as if pondering the answer to his own question. “I know! Why don’t we just ask him?”

            Hiro turned to the group, spotting Tadashi from where he was still standing behind Wasabi. Tadashi froze.

            Was Tadashi supposed to respond? Walk over? What?

            Hiro, unfazed, walked over and put a hand on his shoulder, pulling him forward until he was in front of Callaghan. Tadashi immediately fixed his eyes on the ground, and Hiro kept a hand on his shoulder, presumably for comfort.

            Why are you doing this, Hiro?

            “What are you doing, Hiro?” Callaghan seemed to be of the same mindset.

            “Aw, you don’t recognize him? Hmmm...” Hiro paused, and Tadashi nearly looked up to see what he was up to, but kept his eyes glued to the sidewalk. “Anyone have a baseball cap?”

            Callaghan wasn’t impressed.

            “Your antics are getting out of hand; don’t bring a child into this. You can’t honestly expect me to believe-“

            Tadashi thought fast. He needed something only he and Callaghan would really know about, something he wouldn’t likely have told Hiro...

            Glancing up, Tadashi made eye contact with Callaghan and started to recite the first thing that popped into his head.

            “The day Abigail... disappeared, Baymax shut down the power to the lab... for the third time. It took a while to bring the power back.” At this, he looked down, unable to hold eye contact. “You wanted to know why I didn’t use a battery in the first place, instead of plugging it into the wall. You said you thought I was smarter than that.”

            Callaghan looked at the five year old. He was still skeptical, but he appeared to be considering something.

            “I... vaguely remember something like that. But how could you know-“

            “Maybe because he’s my brother, who you let die.” Hiro clearly had a plan for this conversation, and Tadashi didn’t think he wanted it to play out.

            “Do you really think I could have seen him after I shielded myself? Or heard him, over the flames? He shouldn’t have come running after me in the first place! It is incredibly stupid to run into a burning building without protection.”

            “I don’t remember you complaining when I did something similar to save your daughter.”

            Tadashi wanted to leave. He would have gone back to the van, but Hiro’s hand was tight on his shoulder, and he wouldn’t have been able to leave unnoticed.

            “That-“

            “Is something going on?” A female voice came from inside the house.

            Callaghan fell silent, softening his expression as he turned to his daughter, Abigail.

            “I was just heading to the store when I ran into your friends. We were just having a little chat.”

            “Well, how about you continue it inside? Standing there with the door open is letting all of the warm air out; I could feel a draft in the living room. Besides, I’m sure they’re freezing.”

            Hiro made the universal ‘after you’ gesture, which Callaghan pointedly ignored as they all entered the house after Abigail. As they each shed their respective coat, Abigail started to chat animatedly with Honey Lemon about her return from England. The last time they had interacted had been through video chat when Abigail and Gogo had last gotten together, and they had quite a bit to catch up on.

            Tadashi tuned out the conversation about long flights and stolen luggage, and focused on not bringing the attention back to him. He managed to get his coat buttons undone on his own, which he was glad for; he really didn’t want to have to ask for help. He passed his coat and scarf to Hiro, since he couldn’t quite reach the coat rack, before looking around. He’d never been in the Callaghans’ house before, and he didn’t know what to expect.

            It was tidy, with rugs covering the hardwood floor and bookshelves lining the walls of the front room. A handful of couches and armchairs surrounded a coffee table that had a couple of sizeable books stacked haphazardly on it, the titles of which Tadashi couldn’t make out from where he stood. The coloring was warm, unlike the lab or the classroom, and the room had something inviting about it, with a fireplace crackling merrily in the corner.

            The group filed into the room, and Tadashi took a seat at the arm of the couch closest to the fire, enjoying the warmth that he had been missing for the past few days.  

            “So, who’s this little guy?” Abigail gestured at Tadashi, wondering why her friends would have brought a child with them.

             “My name’s Tadashi.” He wasn’t about to let someone else answer for him. It had been happening too often lately, and it was starting to grate on his nerves. “Tadashi Hamada. I’m Hiro’s brother.”

            It was bad enough that someone had mistaken him for Honey’s kid; he really didn’t want a repeat of that occurrence when Hiro was involved... or ever.

            “Oh, I didn’t know Hiro had a little bro- wait, ‘Tadashi’?” Abigail turned to Hiro, “I thought your older brother was named Tadashi.”

            “He is.”

            “But-“ Abigail looked bewildered, looking between the brothers before turning to her dad for possible clarification. “Okay, I’m officially lost.”

            “Yes, Hiro. Do explain.” Dr. Callaghan settled back into his seat, waiting for a proper explanation rather than the sparse mentions that he had been given before.

            “Actually, I think I’ll let Tadashi tell you. It’s his story, after all.”

            Tadashi slightly recoiled when all eyes turned towards him.

            I take it back. Hiro can answer for me all he wants, he likes being the center of attention.

            He didn’t even know where to start.

            With the fire? Sure, if he wanted to start another argument on morality.

            With his abilities? He was still coming to terms with those himself; it had only been a day since he had become aware of some of them. He wasn’t even sure he wanted them to know about those. It would also lead back to the fire, though in all honesty, that couldn’t be avoided.

            Taking a steadying breath, and hoping that Abigail’s presence would prevent any outbursts, Tadashi focused on Wasabi, trying to pretend that he would only be speaking to him. He was the least likely to distract him or try to prompt him to say something before he was ready.

            “So, I’ve already introduced myself as Tadashi, and yes, I am the ‘older brother’. I was in the middle of my junior year at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, when Hiro entered the student showcase and got accepted to the university.”

            Okay, now is where I have to make sure not to step on any toes.

            “A fire started in the exhibition hall, and I was made aware that Dr. Callaghan was still inside. I ran inside, but... I don’t remember seeing him. I don’t remember seeing much of anything. It’s... kind of fuzzy. I do remember thinking that I should have been in pain when one of the exhibits that had caught fire collapsed and fell against my leg... but other than that... nothing. It’s dark.”

            Now, how to explain returning...

            “I ‘returned to consciousness’ as a child. Well, I was apparently pulled from the building as an infant, but I can’t remember that far back, memories don’t work like that.”

            Of course they don’t, everyone knows that.

            “Um, no one could identify who might have left me behind, so I was placed in an orphanage until someone claimed me or I would be put up for adoption. I grew up relatively normally, at least until I started to remember. My old memories started resurfacing a week or so ago in flashes, and I would have days where I wasn’t entirely sure where I was, since both sets of memories were vying for my attention.

            “There were days where I would go to walk through a door and I would reach for a door handle, only to find that it was much higher than I expected it to be. I tried doing things that I couldn’t physically do yet, and no one would answer my questions about people that I shouldn’t have known the names of. I think they were beginning to think I might be crazy, though it wasn’t too unusual for a kid to make up imaginary friends or a family.

            “When I remembered how to spell words, I used one of the computers they reserve for the older kids to look up what I could remember and see how much of it was real. It was easy to find an article on the fire I had been pulled from, and the name I kept trying to refer to myself as matched. The memories fit after that, though I still didn’t know why.”

            “Okay, sorry to interrupt, but it is a totally relevant question that I don’t think will be answered on its own.” Fred drew Tadashi’s attention, and he wondered just how relevant the question actually was. “What was your name? Like, what did they call you before you remembered?”

            Okay, so it was slightly relevant.

            “They didn’t know if or when I might be picked up, so they just called me Maigo, meaning ‘lost child’.” Tadashi shrugged. “It worked. Although, any time I introduced myself in Japanese, someone would try to give me directions.”

            This got a couple of laughs from the group, and Tadashi decided to continue his story so he could get to the part where he could pass it off to Hiro and stop talking.

            “I remembered the Lucky Cat Café, though I looked up how to get there so I wouldn’t actually get lost. I managed to get my coat and scarf on, and I left when no one was looking. No one would have noticed I was gone; it was a big place, and no one expects a kid to actually go anywhere.

             “It had been raining pretty hard, so almost no one was outside, even though it had lightened a bit. It took me a while to get to the café, longer than I was expecting. I made it a little bit after the sun had set.”

            At this, Tadashi turned to Hiro, clearly indicating that he wanted him to take it from there.

            “Okay, so this little kid,” Hiro pointed at Tadashi, who chucked a throw pillow at him in response, “-hey! I’m just telling how I saw it. Anyway, he shows up at the café, completely drenched, dripping water everywhere, and I see no adults in sight. Naturally, I’m a little concerned. I went to check on him, and I almost had a heart attack when I realized who he was. He told me... basically what he just told you.

            “I took him up to Baymax, who confirmed that it was actually Tadashi, and not some strange mutual insanity. I mean, I believed him, but it was nice to be absolutely certain.” Hiro looked at Callaghan with an expression that clearly stated ‘I told you so.’ “Oh! That reminds me. Fred, have you set up anything for Tadashi’s paper work?”

            “Yup! Got you covered. I told the lawyer what was up, and he’ll handle it from there.”

            Tadashi wished he had been there to witness that conversation.

            “Awesome.”

            “So, wait.” Abigail still looked confused. “That’s nice and all, and I’m glad for you, but... what happened? People don’t just turn into babies when they go into burning buildings.”

            Fred spoke up before anyone else could, clearly having anticipated the question. “I’m afraid that’s confidential information.”

            Wow, good job, Fred... wait did she just buy that?

            Abigail simply nodded, though Tadashi supposed that working for a large, somewhat secretive organization taught her to respect that some of her questions might not get answered.  

            “Well, anyone want to congregate in the kitchen for some hot chocolate?”

            Fred was out of his seat in an instant, almost beating Abigail to the door, and was closely followed by Gogo, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon.

            Abigail turned when she noticed her dad had remained behind.

            “Do you want me to bring you anything, dad?”

            “No, thank you, sweetie. I’ll just wait in here, where it’s quiet.”

            Hiro asked Tadashi if he wanted to join them, but he declined. Glancing at the still-seated Callaghan, Hiro decided that they would be close enough to hear if Tadashi shouted, and if he left the door open, he could see most of the room.

            Tadashi hadn’t told Hiro, but he’d much rather stay by the fire. He wondered if he had the strength to move the couch closer, but quickly scrapped the idea. He chose instead to stand and lean against the brick that outlined the fireplace. The warmth and the appearance of the dancing flames comforted him.

            He listened to the noises that filtered in from the kitchen: Fred’s fast-paced speaking; Honey Lemon’s laughter; the sound of something breaking. He was slightly worried after the last one, but upon hearing no sounds other than a slight scolding, decided it wasn’t worth leaving the fireside to check on them.

            “For someone who died in a fire, you seem remarkably comfortable around it.”

            Tadashi jumped at Callaghan’s voice; he had almost forgotten he was in the room.

            “Oh, um- it’s just warm, so...” Tadashi shrugged. “It can’t hurt me from here, so why would I be afraid?”

            Callaghan merely chuckled, moving to the couch Tadashi had just vacated so that he wouldn’t have to speak across the room to him. He fell silent for a bit, before continuing.

            “I’m sure you have questions.” Callaghan looked over to Tadashi, as if trying to gauge how much he already knew.

            “Hiro answered a lot of them, actually. I just... wanted to hear it from you. Why-“ Tadashi couldn’t finish the question, and couldn’t look Callaghan in the eye.

            Callaghan sighed, but was on guard. “Did Hiro put you up to this?”

            “No! I asked him to bring me here, though he was glad to do it.”

            “Of course he was, Hiro won’t be happy until I’m imprisoned for life or he succeeds in driving me insane.” Callaghan was clearly agitated, and Tadashi was stuck between defending his brother against something that was at least partially true and letting it go to keep Callaghan from getting angrier.

            “It’s not without cause.” Tadashi struggled with finding the right words, but his mind wouldn’t let him ignore the one phrase that echoed through it. “It’s just... you aren’t who I thought you were.”

            Callaghan scoffed slightly at the clichéd phrasing.

            “You always did believe the best of people, even to your own detriment. I almost envy that naïveté. It’s a gift, of sorts.” He sighed, and continued when Tadashi didn’t speak up.

            “People react in ways you wouldn’t expect of them normally when those they care about are harmed... or in danger.” At this Callaghan looked pointedly at Tadashi. “You can’t honestly say you’ve never felt like that, when it came to your own brother’s safety; you told me so yourself.”

            Callaghan stood up, moving so that he stood directly in front of Tadashi, looking down at him. Tadashi suddenly felt like he was on the defensive, and it was starting to make him anxious.

            “But I didn’t act on it. Whatever state of mind you were in, you endangered so many people, needlessly.”

            “Did I? Apart from property damage, what harm did I really do? You’re standing here. Where are the casualties?”

            “That’s because Hiro stopped you! You tried to kill him!”

            “Would you be this upset if your brother hadn’t been involved?”

            “Y-“

            “And what of Krei?”

            “Wha-“

             “What of your friends? They were all there, as well. And yet, you fixate on your family. Everyone else is secondary in comparison.”

            “That’s not-“

            “The same? Really?”

            Tadashi felt his temper flaring. This wasn’t about him, it was about Callaghan, and he couldn’t even get a word in edgewise.

            “Did Hiro tell you he tried to kill me?” Callaghan took in the lack of shock from Tadashi as an affirmative. “For vengeance, to avenge a family member, he attempted to take a life. But he was forcibly stopped. Tell me, have you forgiven him?

            “Of course, he knew it was wrong-“

            “Really? Or did he just think you wouldn’t like it?”

            “Stop it.” The fireplace crackled as a log broke, sending sparks into the air.

            “Stop what? Telling you the truth? Would you like me to lie to you?”

            Tadashi decided he’d heard enough of this, and attempted to move past Callaghan into the kitchen to join his friends, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

            “Let go!

            And Callaghan did, quickly, and with a cry of pain.

            Tadashi thought he felt his heart stop when he turned and saw Callaghan cradling the hand that had just been on his shoulder. The palm was bright red and was starting to swell. It looked... burned. Tadashi panicked.

            Hiro, who had heard Tadashi’s shout, arrived just in time to see Tadashi sprint for the door, and only spared a quick glare at the injured Callaghan as he ran after him.

            His longer legs allowed him to catch up quickly, but Tadashi noticed he was following and stopped before he tried to grab him. Turning around, he gave the universal hand signal for ‘stop,’ though he kept his arm close to his body.

            “Don’t touch me!”

            “Tadashi?” Hiro tried to approach him, but he continued to back away. “What’s wrong? What did he do?”

            Tadashi shook his head, and was clearly shaking, though not from the cold.

            “He didn’t— I—I burned him, Hiro. I didn’t mean to, but...”

            Hiro relaxed slightly; he had been scared that Callaghan had hurt him, somehow. “He had it coming, come on.”

            Hiro reached to put an arm around Tadashi, but Tadashi sharply recoiled, attempting to avoid contact.

            “Didn’t you hear me? I didn’t mean to.” Tadashi was clearly on the verge of something akin to a panic attack. “I could hurt you, too.”

            “You won’t.” Before he could react, Hiro bent down and swept him into a hug.

            Tadashi tensed at the contact —why didn’t Hiro ever listen to him— but allowed himself to relax when no harm came to Hiro, and returned the hug.

            “See?”

            “You bonehead, that was stupidly dangerous.”

            “We’ll just add it to the list then: The Stupid Adventures of Bonehead and the Nerd!”

            Tadashi giggled into the crook of Hiro’s shoulder, before they separated from their hug. A look of realization came over Tadashi’s face.

            “I gotta go heal him!” He was stopped, however when Hiro took a hold of his arm.

            “Haha, no.”

            Tadashi started to protest, but Hiro spoke over him.

            “First off, he totally deserved that and more. Secondly, you would have to cry to get it to work, and just... no. Finally, you don’t even know what effects your tears have on other people. For all you know, you could turn him into a frog.”

            “You’re being ridiculous.”

            “Maybe, you don’t know.”

            “It didn’t affect Gogo, when she got them on her hand.”

            “But she wasn’t injured, now was she?”

            “Hiro.

            “Dashi.”

            “Really?”

            “He’ll be fine. He can just go to a doctor, like any other person. Besides, it serves him right for laying a hand on my brother.” At this, Hiro scooped Tadashi up into his arms, effectively preventing him from trying to return to the house.

            The rest of the group made their way out the door, Honey Lemon trading hugs with Abigail in farewell.

            “Welp, looks like it’s time to go. How sad. I guess I have to put my teddy bear down now.”

            “Stop calling me that.”

            “Stop calling you what?” Fred had reached them, having been one of the first to walk out the door.

            Don’t tell him-

            “Teddy bear.”

            Dang it, Hiro.

            Fred looked pensive for a moment, before a wide grin spread across his face.

            Oh, no.

            The others reached them, completing their group of six, and Fred raised his hand the way you would when you had the answer to an easy question in middle school.

            “I have a very important announcement to make!”

            “Do you need to use the bathroom?”

            “Quiet, Gogo, this is serious.” Fred cleared his throat before continuing.

            “I have officially picked a nickname for Tadashi!” Wonderful. “He shall forthwith and forevermore be known as... Teddy!”

            Gogo let out a short bark of a laugh, whereas Honey commented on how adorable it was.

            “...and I get no say in this, do I?”

            “Nope!” Wasabi looked a bit too pleased at this; Tadashi needed to bring him down a peg.

            “Could be worse. I could be named something like ‘Wasabi’.”

            “Hey!”

            The group laughed and began to pile in the van. Hiro climbed in while still holding Tadashi and set him down in the backseat.

            Wasabi turned to Tadashi as he was buckling in, meaning to allay any worries that might be still on his mind.

            “Hey, don’t worry about what happened back there. At worst it was a first-degree, nothing worse than moderate sunburn. I think you shocked him more than anything.”

            Honey Lemon spoke up from the front seat. “I gave Abigail the quick run-down of what was going on, and let her know you probably didn’t mean to do it, since it surprised you as much as Callaghan. Don’t be afraid of talking to her again, she isn’t angry, honest.”

            “Yeah, she was more curious as to what made you feel threatened. Callaghan had to do some quick talking.” Gogo was clearly amused by this.

            “Do you want to tell us what was going on?” Wasabi always asked in such a way as to not make you feel pressured to answer.

            “Not really.” Tadashi leaned against Hiro, using him as a pillow, firmly intending to sleep for the rest of the trip. For some reason, he was suddenly exhausted.

            “Cheer up, Teddy. You never have to go back there again. ‘The Hero has attained closure after a final confrontation with the dastardly Villain’.”

            “Really, Fred?” Hiro had started at what he had thought was his name, only to realize Fred was being dramatic.

            Tadashi let a grin slip onto his face, and was quickly lulled to sleep by the steady movement of the car.

Chapter Text

            Kyouji pulled himself over the railing of the fire escape to Himitsu’s agreed-on meeting place, wincing slightly as his bruised side complained from being used. He had to be very careful not to let the syringes fall out of his pocket, lest they shatter on the pavement beneath. They had thankfully remained unbroken when he’d been hit, as well as his ribs. He could be grateful for the small things.

            Leaning against the railing once he’d reached the landing, Kyouji wondered if Himitsu couldn’t have picked a more easily accessed area. He did remember he’d been hit by a van, right? Waiting until the ache dulled down again, Kyouji stared at the closed door.

            While the building was technically one of the gang’s official hideouts, it was rarely frequented due to the effort it took to get inside. The downstairs door had been welded shut, and the fire escape was missing its bottom ladder, requiring anyone who that wanted to climb it to use the window ledge (the window was also boarded shut) to boost themselves up.

            Suffice to say Yama had never been inside, which was fine by Kyouji.

            If it came down to it, Yama’d probably let himself get caught before trying to climb this.

            Kyouji laughed at the mental image, before double-checking to make sure none of his bandages had shifted. Though they were completely unnecessary, they did a good job of covering up the scales under the pretense of a wound on his arm, which he should have sustained anyway.

            Opening the door, Kyouji let his eyes adjust to the relative darkness, picking out what he hoped was Himitsu’s heat signature before his eyes normalized to the level of light in the room. Himitsu was working at the sole computer in the decrepit apartment, cursing at the lack of internet, and using his phone to stream information. Leaning back in his chair with a sigh, Himitsu spotted Kyouji just as he shut the door behind him.

            “You got here fast- thought ya said you’d been hit by a truck.”

            “It was a van.”

            Kyouji had called after escaping the group to ask where he wanted to meet to exchange the papers. Himitsu refused to text, and deleted all texts received before reading them, claiming they were too easy to trace and use as evidence.

            Himitsu clearly hadn’t finished yet, so Kyouji plopped himself onto the couch, biting back a groan when his injuries protested at the movement. Cuts, scrapes, burns, scratches, and the like were made null by the scales, but bruises or anything beneath the skin would have to heal normally.

            “Why’d you get hit, anyway? You’re fast enough to get out of the way.”

            Kyouji was not telling him about the couch; he’d never live it down.

            “Wasn’t paying attention. I did move a bit, otherwise it would have been worse.”

            “If you say so, Jadoku.” Himitsu turned back to the screen, returning to the task at hand. “I’d say it’s a string of bad luck, if ya ask me.”

            “I didn’t.” The last thing Kyouji needed was for any remaining luck he had to turn sour.

            “Just saying, maybe we should start calling you ‘Kyouji’.”

            “You’re hilarious.” Kyouji’s deadpan voice drew a chuckle from Himitsu, who checked his phone again and inputted something else in the computer.

            The room fell comfortably silent, except for the sounds of the computer, until Himitsu finally pushed away and moved to one of the other machines standing against the wall.

            “If they’d just set up the internet here, my life would be so much easier.” Himitsu griped as he finished up the paperwork. “I mean, I get the need to keep this place under the radar, but it isn’t that hard to encrypt a signal.”

            He turned to Kyouji, as if expecting him to fix the problem.

            “Don’t look at me. I don’t do tech, I just know what it’s worth.”

             “Which is why your phone deeply saddens me.” Himitsu put the finished documents into a packet, binding it shut.

            “Then give me a new one.”

            “You know I don’t do anything for free.” Himitsu grinned as he dropped the packet on Kyouji. “This is officially out of my hands, I can’t be held responsible when those guys actually kill you.”

            “It was an accident; they were actually pretty nice about it...” Kyouji trailed off, remembering how they’d tried to treat him. It was too bad he couldn’t let them; they could have given him something for the pain, if nothing else.

            “Oi.”

            Kyouji startled and then glared at Himitsu, having been poked in the forehead.

            “Just keep your mind on the job. You still gotta pay me when this is all over, so try not to get yourself killed... by either side.”

            Gee, thanks for the reminder.

            “I’m not an idiot, I was just thinking about how I got a look in the back room. Looks like they own whatever is upstairs, too, and it isn’t open to the public.”

            Himitsu chuckled, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll leave you to plot.”

            Stretching as he made his way to the door, Himitsu paused and turned back to Kyouji.

            “Just...” He tapped his phone against his hand, considering his words. “Don’t get too attached.”

            Kyouji rolled his eyes at him, and Himitsu waved with a quick “Ja ne,” before he was out the door.

            Kyouji didn’t feel like going back out the fire escape anytime soon, as he felt the effects of adrenaline leaving his system. A wave of exhaustion hit him over the head and the ache in his side apparently decided it wasn’t making itself known well enough. He looked to the exit debating if there might be a better place he could go to spend the night.

            …not worth the effort.

            He was cautious enough to consider the possibility, however slim, of someone a little less than friendly coming in, and he forced himself to stand with a groan, picking up the packet as he went. The exterior door’s lock was broken, so he made his way downstairs, locking that door behind him, and settled into one of the couches there, figuring it was as safe as any place to catch up on some sleep.


 

            The van pulled in front of the café and Gogo hopped out of the passenger seat, passing Tadashi’s coat and scarf to Hiro, as well as his own winter regalia. Unlocking her bike, she pulled her recently returned helmet over her head, readjusting the strap that had been tightened to fit a child.

            “Well, I’ve got to run. I do have a life outside of you guys.”

            “How could you?” Fred quipped.

            Gogo rolled her eyes at him, popping a stick of gum in her mouth before speeding off.

            Honey Lemon handed the keys back to Wasabi and climbed out herself, heading to the side door that didn’t lead directly to the café. Hiro sat for a second with the pile of winter items in his lap, trying to figure out how he would pick up Tadashi without dropping anything, when said five year old stirred against him, waking up.

            “Good morning, Teddy!” Fred said cheerfully.

            “Fred?” Tadashi looked around, confused for a moment before yawning and sitting up straight, rubbing at his eyes. “Not morning... still afternoon.”

            Hiro laughed and mussed up Tadashi’s hair before pushing on the back of his head to prompt him to get out the van. Tadashi batted at Hiro’s hand and climbed out, allowing the others in the back seat the moving space to do likewise.

             “I’m going to head out, too. It was cool hanging with you guys, but I’m going to call it a day.” Wasabi spoke from the front seat, and it was obvious that he wasn’t entirely comfortable being behind the wheel. The van pulled out, and Wasabi was clearly staying as close to the median of the roadway as possible.    

            Hiro pulled everything under one arm so that he could unlock the house door, and he let the other three in before shutting it behind him.

            As they hung their coats on the rack, Honey Lemon brought up the idea of testing Tadashi’s tears at her lab, seeing what they reacted with and other basic tests.

            “Hey, Tadas-“ Receiving a warning glare from Fred, Hiro paused, changing his words mid-sentence. “-Teddy, could you go get that vial from upstairs and give it to Honey Lemon? I’ve got to go reopen the café.”

            Tadashi nodded, having already removed his boots, and padded up the stairs in his socks with Fred following closely behind, asking if he still knew how to play video games.

            Hiro laughed, shaking his head, and he and Honey went to the main of the café to open up. Honey started up the machines as Hiro went to unlock the door. Through the glass he saw an old woman, in clothing meant for women easily fifty years younger, hitting the glass repeatedly with her umbrella.

            Wasabi is going to have a conniption if that left scratches.

            As he unlocked the door, the lady put a hand on her hip, scowling at Hiro.

            “If you are going to change your hours, you should post them.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry, Ms. Masuda, they haven’t changed. Something came up.”

            “Well, I certainly hope it was important.” She continued chastising him as she walked into the shop. “You run a business; there’s no excuse for laziness. When Cass was running the place, we never had this sort of problem.”

            Well Aunt Cass isn’t here.

            Hiro bit the inside of his cheek to keep from retorting as they made their way to the counter, behind which Honey Lemon had just turned on the cash register.

            “I certainly hope she didn’t have anything to do with it.”

            As the old lady brushed past him to look at the pastries on display, Hiro had to remind himself that it wasn’t okay to trip old people, no matter how much they asked for it. He traded places with Honey Lemon at the register and asked if she would refill Mochi’s food bowl before she left, and she agreed.

            Glancing through the back room, Hiro watched Tadashi pass the vial to Honey Lemon before receiving a quick goodbye hug. Hiro turned back to the café when he heard an impatient clearing of the throat, and hurried to fill the order. 

            “Here you go, come back soon.” As Hiro exchanged the food for money, he received nothing but a mumbled “young people these days” in return before the old lady walked out the door.

            When she was gone, Hiro sighed and leaned forward onto the counter, running a hand through his hair. Before Tadashi had come back, he’d been able to run the café easily on his own, with minimal help from Wasabi. He’d even had time to dedicate to designing or improving his prosthetics, but now...

            Hiro sighed again, turning and brewing himself a cup of coffee. The past few days had been insane, and it didn’t look like things were going to be letting up anytime soon. Hiro didn’t want to miss any moment that could be spent with his returned brother, but he did have responsibilities that he’d been frankly ignoring.          He hadn’t even spared much time for Baymax, and that was just... wrong. It was easy to turn him off and ignore him for a while, but he had become part of the family and he shouldn’t just be thought of in emergencies. Hiro decided he’d activate him at closing time, and see what Tadashi and Fred were getting up to.

            Letting the coffee cool, Hiro returned to the problem at hand. He couldn’t easily run the café on his own, not if he wanted to spend any quality time with Tadashi. He wouldn’t put the responsibility on Wasabi, either; he still had classes to attend, and he’d want to spend his free time with the group as well.

            The money wasn’t the issue, Hiro just didn’t want something Aunt Cass had worked so hard to build up to fall apart in her absence. She’d be crushed when she found out. And she would find out. One of these days, she was going to wake up and come back, and everything could go back to the way it was. Hiro just had to believe that with enough conviction, and it would be true.

            Finally taking a sip of the coffee, Hiro considered another option that he had rejected before, thinking he could handle everything himself. He could always try hiring someone. Granted, he’d have to get to know them pretty well, and he couldn’t leave them on their own at first, the place was connected to his house after all. There were always preventative measures he could take.

            How does one even go about hiring someone? Hiro remembered seeing ‘help wanted’ signs in stores before, but he really didn’t want to deal with a crowd of potential applicants. Just one, maybe two people would do.

            As another customer entered the store, Hiro decided he’d give it more thought later.


 

            Upstairs, Fred and Tadashi had started up the Wii, since it was the only game system that Tadashi could comfortably hold the controller for, and were currently trying to destroy each other in Super Smash Bros Brawl.

            Fred was making wild movements, claiming they made a real difference to the gameplay, while Tadashi was almost completely still, heavily focused on the game. Every now and then, Tadashi’s fingers would slip up and Fred would get a good hit in, but Tadashi was still able to beat him like he always had in the end.

            The victory screen came up, and Link celebrated as Bowser clapped in the background.

            “Let’s go again. I know I can beat you with Pokémon Trainer!”

            As it turned out, he couldn’t.

            Four rounds later, and Fred finally admitted defeat.

            “I give up, Teddy. I surrender.” Fred flopped back in the beanbag before getting up to change the disk.

            “You just have a very predictable move set. If you varied it a little—“

            “I’ll just crush you in Mario Kart.” Fred clearly wasn’t up for taking advice.

            “You can try.”

             It was more even at the end of that round of gaming; Fred was actually able to win the tiebreaker game for the victory.

            “Yes! Sweet victory!”

            Tadashi just laughed at Fred’s reaction, unclipping the controller and putting it away.

            “How does it feel to win against a five year old?”

            “Don’t spoil this for me, Teddy. You aren’t just a normal five year old; I can officially say I beat a phoenix at video games!” Fred did an impromptu victory dance that left Tadashi laughing.

            When both guys had calmed down, Fred plopped back into his beanbag before turning to Tadashi.

            “So, do you want to go see what Hiro’s up to?”

            Tadashi shook his head in response.

            “He’s probably busy, I don’t want to bother him.”

            “He wouldn’t be upset, dude. Trust me. But, you know, your choice.”

            Tadashi’s message alert went off, -‘Hey, listen!’-, and he opened it up, checking the text from Honey Lemon.

            “What’s up?”

            “Honey sent some preliminary test results to my phone.” Tadashi stood up and started pacing, absentmindedly running the hand that wasn’t holding the phone along the back of his neck. “It’s just basic stuff, but I can work with this!”

            Tadashi stopped pacing and turned to Fred, looking like he was considering something.

            “Would you like to be a test subject?”

 

Chapter Text

           Hiro made his way up the stairs after closing the café at the end of the day and found Fred laughing hysterically on the couch while Tadashi stood in the center of the room, pouting and wiping very clear tears out of his eyes. Hiro paused at the top of the stairs, sniffing the air.

           "Do I smell onions?"

           "...maybe." Tadashi was still wiping at his profusely watering eyes. "Apparently, irritating the eyes doesn't produce the right type of tears."

           "Well, we know tickling wor-"

           "Don't you dare." Tadashi glared up at Hiro, crossing his arms.

           Hiro tried, he really did, but he couldn't stop the bubble of laughter from escaping him in response to Tadashi's petulant face.

           If he stomps his foot, so help me...

           When the laughing died down, Fred stood up and stretched, checking the time on his phone.

           "Well, we can't test what we don't have, so guess I'll be headed out."

           "You sure you don't want to stay for dinner?"

           "Tempting, but my mom decided to institute a family dinner night. Heathcliff's making a feast!" Fred started towards the stairs, picking up his bag as he went. "I'd invite you guys, but family meals are sacred, or something like that."

           "It's cool. Later, Fred!"

           "Later, Hiro! Bye, Teddy!" Dispensing a quick hug to Hiro before picking Tadashi up and swinging him around in a small circle, before setting him down and dashing down the stairs. The front door closed behind him, leaving the two brothers alone in the café.
"I don't think I will ever get used to that." Tadashi held his head to stop the room's spinning, while Hiro just laughed.

           "I'm pretty sure it won't end any time soon. You're not exactly difficult to lift."

           As if to demonstrate, Hiro picked him up and set him on one of the stools at the kitchen counter. With the constant presence of the group at each other's houses over the years, everyone (except for Fred) had invested in additional seating so that no one had to sit on the floor, or, as Fred once tried, on each other.

           Hiro glanced at the cutting board on the counter with part of the onion in pieces, wondering if it was worth actually cooking something or if they should just grab some pastries from downstairs. Though, to be completely honest, the thought of the smell of a pastry was enough to make Hiro slightly nauseous. Working around something all day most days of the week would be enough to make anyone sick of it. Even coffee had become a necessity rather than something he enjoyed.

           It didn't help that he was starting to subconsciously associate the café's food with rude people. He had gotten multiple comments, even after Ms. Masuda had left, about closing the café. The comments themselves had ranged from worried to irritated, but no one had responded positively when he failed to provide a good enough reason (in their opinion) of closing early. It was understandable to be a bit upset, but seriously?

           Tadashi took note of Hiro's silence, watching as his eyebrows drew together in thought as he stared vacantly at the cutting board on the counter.

           "I'm pretty sure an onion isn't that interesting."

           When Hiro only responded with a small hum of acknowledgement, not so much as glancing at him, he knew something was up.

           "What's wrong?"

           Hiro pinched the bridge of his nose, as if he had a slight headache, before looking up with a wan smile. "Don't worry about it, it's not a big deal."

           "I'm already worried, just tell me." Tadashi set his head down on his folded arms, looking up at Hiro as he waited for a proper response.

           "It'll sort itself out eventually. It's just the craziness of dealing with the café on top of all this..." Hiro vaguely gestured, leaving Tadashi uncertain how to reply, so he fell back on his habitual reply.

           "I'm sorr-"

           Hiro cut him off.

           "Don't. Don't even apologize. I much prefer this to what it was like before."

           Tadashi clenched his teeth, giving a small hum in reply to prevent another apology from slipping out, since he considered that as his fault, too.

           "So... what do you want for dinner?" Hiro opened the fridge and fished around, finding eggs, some celery, butter... and not much else. Hiro mentally added grocery shopping to the list of things he needed to get done that he had put off.

           "Dunno."

           "That's very helpful." Considering the dried foodstuffs in the pantry, Hiro decided to go with something easy. "Stir-fry it is, then."

           Tadashi hopped down from his stool to dig some chicken out of the freezer, putting some in a bowl of water to thaw quickly. It took some creative maneuvering, but he managed to keep everything in the bowl and get it situated on the counter. Hopefully the chicken would be an appropriate temperature by the time Hiro needed to cut it up.

           Hiro started boiling some water to cook the rice, and sliced the unused part of the onion and the recently washed celery into thin strips. When the rice was about half way done, Hiro took the meat from the bowl... only to find that it was still mostly frozen.

           "And this is why we need a microwave upstairs."

           While Hiro was checking the other piece of chicken, Tadashi got an idea. Since the issue was that the meat wasn't warm enough, maybe he could do something about it. He'd channeled heat before, if unintentionally. He winced as he remembered what he had done to Callaghan, and decided he needed more practice in order to possibly control it.

           Leaning on the counter from his stool, he reached out a couple of fingers to the meat on the cutting board. Concentrating on tensing his arm and trying to imagine warming up, (and feeling slightly ridiculous while doing so), Tadashi lightly touched the piece of meat.

           The effect was instantaneous: a loud 'pop' filled the kitchen, similar to the sound of shattering ice, and Tadashi cried out in surprise, jerking backwards. Unfortunately, he had been balanced precariously on the stool, and the movement caused him to topple off of it. He landed with a thud on the hardwood floor.

           "Ow!" The collision was more surprising than actually painful; he had landed on his back and rolled to his side, his head not even hitting the floor.

           "Tadashi!" Hiro came around the side of the counter, crouching down to inspect the (nonexistent) damage, just as Baymax finished inflating from his crate. "You okay?"

           "Mhmm." Tadashi nodded, more embarrassed than anything.

           "You have fallen." Baymax displayed the pain chart on his front. "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?"

           "Maybe a 1." Tadashi stood up with a hand of assistance from Hiro. He hadn't hit the ground particularly hard; he'd be surprised if he were even bruised the next day. "No medical attention required."

           Baymax immediately backed down.

           "Wait. That's all you have to say to make him stop?"

           "...yeah?"

           "Are you serious? I've had to shut him down so. many. times."

           "The phrase I taught you is only for when the treatment is complete. Baymax was meant to stick around until the patient was completely cured, so I made something to stop him trying to treat a non-injury." Tadashi tilted his head, looking up at his brother. "Wasn't it obvious?"

           "Well, yeah. Now that I know what it is." Hiro thought back to his first couple of interactions with Baymax, admitting that asking him to shrink probably wasn't the best method to start out with.

           "You had him for five years and you never thought of that? Not once?"

           "Hush."

           "The food on the stove is reaching unsafe temperatures." Baymax interrupted the brothers and pointed into the kitchen.

           "Ah! Crud!" Hiro pulled the rice off of the burner, scooping off the top portion into a bowl before checking the damage to the rest.

           There was a firm layer stuck to the bottom and sides of the pot, but it didn't seem burnt. Scooping out what he could and putting it in a separate bowl, Hiro turned back to the meat and vegetables. It looked like this was going to be a two-course meal. Looking at the meat, Hiro noticed that the piece Tadashi had touched had a single charred dot about the width of a fingerprint with a circle of decreasing degrees of brownness expanding from it, until just the tips were still pink.

           Hiro let out a low whistle as he quickly prepared the other (now mostly thawed) piece and put it in the skillet with some oil and the vegetables.

           "Dang, you really let it have it."

           "Sorry... I wasn't thinking. I'll eat what's edible of that piece." Tadashi reached out to take it, but his hand was batted away by Hiro, who began to separate the cooked part from the raw with a fresh knife.

           "Nah. We'll split it... the cooked part anyway. Then I can say that I've eaten something cooked with your bare hands."

           Tadashi laughed at that. "You're so weird."

           "Look who's talking." Hiro passed him the bowl of rice that he had taken from the top of the pot. "Eat up, before it gets cold."

           "With what? I mean, I understand your eating habits, but I'm not ready to just stick my face in-"

           "If you'd give me half a second..." Hiro passed a fork over to Tadashi, who looked at it like it was an alien contraption before looked pointedly at the rice and then at Hiro.

           "This is an atrocity."

           "Just eat your food."

           Tadashi did, but as soon as Hiro's attention was back on the contents of the stove, he turned to Baymax, gesturing at Hiro as if saying: 'See what I have to deal with?' If he was expecting some sort of expression of solidarity, he was to be disappointed. Baymax simply blinked before walking over to Hiro and warning him of the danger of cooking meat that wasn't completely thawed.

           Tadashi sighed. It wasn't quite what he had meant, but it was a good point. The chicken could pop and scald Hiro with the released grease.

           Tadashi let his mind wander until Hiro placed the plate of soy-sauce drenched meat and vegetables on the counter in front of him. As he pulled some into the bowl, he noticed Hiro make the face that indicated that he was going to say something that he thought Tadashi probably wouldn't like.

           "So, with the way things have been lately, I was thinking of bringing in some help to run the café."

           Tadashi looked up at Hiro, surprised. Sure, Hiro had complained about the difficulties of managing the café, but Hiro was someone who rarely asked for help, especially from someone he didn't know. There'd never been someone outside of their close friends and family working at the café. It was part of their home.

           Hiro continued hurriedly, even though Tadashi hadn't yet shown signs of disapproval. "It'd be useful to have someone to watch the shop if I need to leave, or even just want to leave sometime. I can't always have Wasabi cover for me, either. I still don't know how he's managing doctorate level courses and still being around whenever I need him. I guess that's just Wasabi, though. Um, anyway, I thought I should get your opinion before I started looking."

           Tadashi didn't answer right away; he rarely did if it was something important. Finally shrugging, he turned again to Hiro.

           "It makes sense, we'd just have to be careful, what with the café being connected to the house so openly."

           Hiro relaxed. He probably would have hired someone anyway, but it was good to have Tadashi on his side.

           "We'll be fine. Seriously, what's the worst that could happen?"


           The next day, Honey Lemon and Fred stopped by and hung out upstairs with Tadashi and Baymax. Stuck working downstairs in the café, Hiro dreaded to think what they were getting up to. Luckily, he was kept busy enough that he didn't have the time to dwell on it.

           Hiro didn't remember Tuesdays being this busy, but he guessed that he was probably just feeling the effects of not having someone to hang out with while working.

           Wasabi's absence was mainly due to the need to get a handle on his assignments again, after letting them slip slightly at Tadashi's reappearance. Of course, Wasabi's 'slacking' was usually much more effort than most people put into their schoolwork, so his grades hadn't even been affected. Still, it was the principle of the thing.

           Hiro was filling orders for the heavy lunch crowd when a familiar shock of red hair caught his attention as he returned to the counter.

           "Oi, Kyouji!" The redhead startled a bit, before finally approaching the counter, grinning slightly as he pushed his hair out of his face. Hiro noticed the bandages under his sleeve, guessing he had gotten medical care on his own. "I suppose I got your name right, I wasn't totally sure. How's your arm?"

           "It's fine. Like I said, it was just a scrape."

           "I'm glad. I can tell Wasabi that you didn't retreat to a corner and die. He was freaking out after you left."

           Kyouji chuckled at that.

           "That seems to be a specialty of his."

           A machine behind Hiro dinged, and Hiro paired the drink with a certain bag before calling out for order number 48, before quickly resetting the machine for the next order.

           "Where is he, anyway? It's packed in here."

           It took Hiro a second to realize Kyouji was still talking about Wasabi.

           "Oh," Hiro checked his watch. "He's probably in class at this point. He only helps out when he can."

           Kyouji moved out of the way of the brunette who came to collect his meal. On his way out, he brushed by Kyouji a little harshly, jarring his injured arm. Kyouji spared him a slight glare, ignoring him for the most part, but Hiro was bothered by the occurrence.

           "Hey!" But Hiro went ignored. "I can't believe him."

           "It's fine." Kyouji just shrugged, lightly holding his arm. "It's not like he could have known."

           "Still. Ugh, It's people like that that make me want to dump their coffee on them. Accidentally, of course." Hiro popped the top onto another drink, setting it aside as part of a larger order.

           "How are you still in business, again?"

           "Hey, I said want to. I wouldn't actually. This place means too much to my aunt to let something happen to it because I couldn't keep my temper."

           "Just so long as I don't have to worry about coffee induced burns."

           Hiro laughed. "Nah, you're safe. Well... as safe as you can be around here. My friends can be a bit crazy."

           "I gathered as much." Kyouji indicated slightly with his injured arm, prompting another chuckle on Hiro's part. He pointed behind Hiro, a slightly worried look on his face. "Speaking of crazy, I think your machine's lost it."

           "What?" Hiro turned and of course the devil machine would act up when it was most busy.

           The area behind the counter wasn't easily accessible, so Kyouji just passed a stack of napkins over to Hiro as he tried to contain the mess of boiling liquid without scalding himself.

           "Could you change the output to water? At least then the mess won't be as bad."

           "Um, maybe?" Hiro hit the hot water button, and the machine began running clear, and then responded appropriately when he hit the 'off' button for the fifth time since the mess started. "Oh my gosh, that worked."

           Hiro sighed at the pile of damp napkins, tossing them into the trash under the counter. When one of the other machines opened up, he entered the destroyed order, hoping that none of his good machines would decide to go berserk anytime soon. Passing a completed order to a slightly annoyed teen, who had noticed when her order had been finished, Hiro leaned against the counter, feeling a stress headache coming on.

           "This is insane." Hiro checked his watch again, estimating how long it would be until Wasabi could possibly arrive, though that wasn't really fair to him. "This was not meant to be a one-person job. I don't know how my aunt did it."

           Kyouji made a small noise in agreement.

           Hiro called up another order, before again turning to Kyouji. "I'm actually looking to hire someone; I've reached the limit of what I can do on my own. I'd post a sign or something, but..." Hiro shrugged. "I don't want to deal with a bunch of people at once, or with a bunch of high school kids looking for an easy job."

           Nodding in agreement, Kyouji shifted his weight to his other leg and crossed his arms before speaking. "So, what would it take to get hired?"

           "Wait, you're interested?" Hiro looked slightly surprised, but quickly recovered when Kyouji nodded again. "Oh, um..." Hiro wracked his brain for what employers usually asked for. "I guess just some I.D. and proof that you're not some mass murderer or something."

           Kyouji laughed along with Hiro. "Sure, I can do that."

           "Cool." Hiro paused before face palming. "Wow, I'm terrible. I haven't even asked what you wanted to order. Here I am, talking your ear off..." Hiro laughed slightly. "What can I get you?"

           Kyouji ordered a sandwich and some water, and promised to stop by around closing time to sort things out. When he had left, Hiro let out a sigh of relief. If he'd known it'd be that easy, he wouldn't have worried so much.


           Around 3:00, Honey Lemon, Tadashi, and Fred finally came down the stairs for a late lunch. The only customers in the café had already been served and had paid, so Hiro grabbed a sandwich for himself and joined the small group at a table from which he could still keep an eye on the door. Wasabi's class let out at 2:50, so he'd probably arrive soon if Hiro needed someone to cover for him.

           When Hiro sat at the table, he noticed something odd.

           "Uh, why are Fred's fingers wrapped in bandages?"

           "Because Teddy doesn't care about me!"

           "I tried! You kept making me laugh!"

           "You see? He admits to laughing at my pain."

           "Cracking sleeping beauty jokes really wasn't a good method for getting yourself healed." Honey Lemon passed her phone over to Hiro, and he saw a picture of Fred dramatically posing with his pricked finger, while Tadashi was clearly trying to hold in his laughter.

           "Honey! You're supposed to be on my side!"

           Tadashi spoke up again, desperately trying to clear his name. "It's just a pinprick, it's probably already closed on its own, anyway. The bandages were completely unnecessary. Even Baymax said so."

           Fred let out a loud sigh, mock cradling his 'injured' hand. "I guess I'll just have to wait to get superpowers."

           "Fred. I already told you the tears aren't likely to do anything other than heal you." Tadashi had clearly had this conversation with him multiple times throughout the day.

           "Nope. I'm getting powers. Just watch."

           Hiro laughed. "It sounds like you guys had quite the day."

           "Mhmm." Tadashi reached for his glass, trying to pick it up with one hand out of habit, but it slipped from his grip. It landed back on the table and Tadashi rushed to steady it with both his hands, but a little was spilt. "Oops."

           Hiro passed him a napkin, and he started to clean up the spill.

           "Do I need to get you a lid?"

           "No." Tadashi glared at his brother, embarrassed by the idea.

           "Just asking. Maybe I could grab you a smaller cup."

           "It's fine, Hiro. It just slipped. I can do this." Tadashi then picked up the cup with both hands and easily took a sip.

           "Okay, okay." Hiro lifted his hands slightly in surrender. "Changing the subject, I think I found someone to help out at the café."

           Tadashi abruptly turned his head to his brother. "Already?"

           "I didn't know you were looking to hire someone." Honey Lemon looked confused, like she was trying to recall a conversation it would have come up in.

           "I only just talked to Tadas-Teddy about it last night."

           "Oh, okay." Honey's smile returned, lighting up her features again. "So, who is it?"

           "You remember Kyouji, right?"

           "The guy Wasabi hit with his van?" Fred hadn't actually had the chance to meet him yet, but it looked like he would soon.

           "Oh, you spoke with him? Is he okay?" Honey Lemon's eyebrows furrowed in concern.

           "Yeah, he's fine. His arm was wrapped pretty well, and he moved easily enough."

           "That's good." Honey Lemon smiled again. "So you're hiring him?"

           "Most likely, he's just got to bring me some papers and I can show him how to run the machines, though he seemed to know what to do when the devil machine acted up."

           "Again?"

           "Yeah..." Hiro detailed the important parts of the day, mentioning everything from the machine to his own lack of customer service in reference to taking Kyouji's order. When he mentioned the guy who shoved past Kyouji, Honey Lemon reacted angrily.

           "That jerk!"

           "I know, right? And he didn't even turn when I called after him. I can't believe people like him exist."

           "I can't wait to meet him!" After receiving some strange looks, Fred realized his mistake. "Kyouji, not the other dude."

           "Yeah, just try not to scare him off."

           "Won't he need to deal with people on the job? If he can deal with Fred, he can deal with anybody."

           Tadashi made a valid point, causing Hiro to laugh while picturing his reaction to Fred's antics.

           "That laugh worries me!" Wasabi had just walked through the front door, but paused upon hearing Hiro's cackle.

           "Don't worry, you're safe."

           "Somehow, that really doesn't make me feel any better."

           Hiro just grinned, settling back into his chair as Honey Lemon started talking further about their work upstairs.

 

Chapter Text

            Kyouji was halfway back to his house his father’s house when his cell phone started to ring, the tinny jingle feeding his desire to chuck the stupid thing across the street. At present, he strongly disliked the notion of speaking to either of the two people who could call him.

            Checking the caller ID, Kyouji relented and brought the phone to his ear.

            “Care to explain yourself, Himitsu?” The little stunt at the café had not only reawakened the persistent ache in his side and arm, but had also seemed completely pointless.

            Light laughter was heard on the other side of the phone. “You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.”

            “I’m pretty sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.” Kyouji waited as Himitsu remained silent, and was about to hang up when he began to speak.

            “I thought ya were better at this. D’you check your pockets?”

            “Check my-?” Oh. Reaching down into his left pocket, ignoring the twinge in his arm, he pulled out a small black box that easily fit within his palm. On one side was an embedded switch and a small black circle Kyouji bet would lights up if activated. “What, are we playing spies now?”

            “Already bashing it, and ya don’t even know what it is...”

            Kyouji rolled his eyes, before looking both ways as he crossed 4th Street; he was not going to be hit again. “Let me guess, I flip the switch and something blows up.”

            “Hehe, no. Strike one.”

            “Himitsu, I’m not playing games with you. Why couldn’t you just give... whatever it is, to me in person?”

            “I did give-“

            “That is not what I meant, and you know it.” Kyouji was feeling particularly irritable, and if he let Himitsu take the conversation where he would, he might never get the answers he wanted. Turning the small box over in his hands, looking for any other distinguishing marks, Kyouji waited for Himitsu’s laughter to stop.

            “It’s more fun my way. Besides, maybe I got ya some pity points from your new boss.”

            Kyouji felt his irritation flare again, but mentally tamped it down. There was no reason to make the situation into something it wasn’t, just because he was grumpy. “I thought you didn’t want anything to do with this... and you still haven’t told me what it does.”

            “-take all the fun outta... fine. Y’know how I was saying a signal isn’t that hard to set up? It isn’t. Flip the switch and a couple of Fujitas will provide you with a quick getaway... if you get that far.”

            “I thought you didn’t give anything for free?”

            “I don’t.” Himitsu chuckled. “I’m just the messenger and creator. Yama commissioned it. He must really want this to go well if he’s offering the assistance of the Fujitas.”

            Kyouji felt worry begin to gnaw at his stomach.

            Yama doesn’t have direct control on the Fujitas.

            He might have at one point, but he lost that privilege when he got captured. The deadly and efficient group of women only answered to Yama’s older brother now...

            Which means that this job just got a lot more demanding.

            “Yeah... guess so.”

            “Also, the two wanna meet you before the job. Ya know, to make sure you know it’s them and they know it’s you. Wouldn’t want a mix up on something like this.”

            Kyouji felt like ice had been shot into his lungs. Those women were certifiably crazy. As in, if you weren’t completely necessary for what they needed, your life amounted to less than an insect’s, and was completely dependent on their whim.

            Himitsu continued, oblivious to Kyouji’s distress.“So, I wasn’t sure how to set up a meeting for ya, so I just gave them your number.”

            No. No-no-no-no-no-no. Kyouji choked on air for a moment.

            “You did what?”

            “D’you need your hearing checked?” Himitsu laughed at his own joke.

            This isn’t funny!

            “Anyway, I gotta go. Keep your phone on you!”

            With that, Himitsu hung up, leaving Kyouji to stand with his phone still held to his ear for a couple of seconds. He felt panic creeping on the edge of his mind, but forcefully pushed it back. There was nothing he could do about it at that time, and he had other things that took precedence.

            Shoving his phone back in his pocket, Kyouji picked up his pace. He fervently hoped they wouldn’t call anytime soon.

            Having made his way from the crowded streets of downtown to the less frequented neighborhoods, Kyouji quietly walked around the side of a rundown house and tried the latch on the back gate. Thankfully, it was still unlocked; Kyouji didn’t want to deal with the hassle and pain of scaling it, and the front door was not an option.

            After picking his way through the tiny, gravel-covered excuse of a backyard, Kyouji ran his fake driver’s license along the bottom of his window, forcing the latch up. Easing his fingers under the edge of the pane, he opened the window as quietly as he could and climbed into his room. Slipping the card back in his pocket, he carefully lowered the glass back to its original position so that it would not fall shut.

            He listened for sounds of movement in the house before determining that a confrontation was unlikely, and he allowed himself to relax. He hadn’t exactly brought any funds in recently to pay the rent his father had imposed upon him when he turned eighteen. If this job went well, he’d be able to walk through the front door like a normal human, or even find a small place of his own.

            Kyouji scoffed at this train of thought.

            Yeah, keep dreaming.

            Walking over to the dresser, he reached out and slid open the top drawer. It was mostly empty, except for the packet he had recently received and a small book of fairytales with a faded picture peeking out of the edges of the pages. Taking the packet, he pushed the drawer shut again, deciding that lingering to reminisce was not a choice he should make at the time.

            Besides, he was too old to look at a picture of his mom and wonder what she was like; that was for children. He should probably just get rid of it, like his father had tried to do, years earlier. It wouldn’t do him any good, anyway.

            Packet in hand, he made his way out the window, letting the latch fall closed behind him. There were still a couple of hours before he needed to go to the café, so he debated the merits of his usual hangouts, finally deciding on the least frequented of them to hole up in until it was time to leave.


            Hiro glanced up at the clock, noticing that it was nearing closing time; Kyouji would be back soon. Tadashi, Fred, and Honey Lemon had gone back upstairs, but had promised to return when Hiro texted them to announce Kyouji’s arrival.

            Tadashi had been very adamant to continue attempting to test his abilities, and Hiro had to wonder what he was planning. He seemed to be having issues actually forming the tears, and the sample that Honey Lemon had taken earlier was contaminated with what she had used to test its chemical composition.

            The café finally emptied out as the two remaining customers paid and left; the door’s bells jingled at their exit. Taking out a rag and wiping down the table they had vacated, Hiro let himself imagine what methods the people upstairs were using to make Tadashi cry.

            “I can hear you thinking from over here.” Wasabi had busied himself with the dishes in the back room, and was now standing behind the counter. He had decided to hang around until Kyouji showed up, if only to apologize to him.

            “I’m just wondering what they’re getting up to up there. I haven’t heard any screaming, so I guess they must be okay.”

            “That’s your standard for well-being?”

            “Yup.” Hiro tossed the rag into the sink and pulled out his phone. He might as well have them come down already, even if Kyouji hadn’t yet shown up.

            As soon as Hiro had put away his phone, message sent, the café door opened and Kyouji let himself inside. Hiro grinned; his timing was perfect.

            “Welcome back!”

            Kyouji looked a little surprised at the greeting, but he quickly recovered, smiling and approaching the counter with a packet in one hand. Hiro accepted the packet from him, looking it over, while Wasabi began to speak.

            “Hey, I realized I never actually apologized to you for hitting you with my van. Terrible oversight, I know. So, I’m actually really sorry about that.”

            “Oh, uh... it’s okay. I didn’t actually notice you hadn’t apologized. Your actions spoke for you.” Kyouji pulled on the edges of his sleeve, tugging it further over the bandage.

            Wasabi shrugged. “Still, it needed to be said, and—“

            Whatever Wasabi was going to say was lost as Fred came bursting through the door of the back room. Turning the corner of the counter sharply, he came to a stop a short distance from Kyouji... or tried to anyway.

            Fred did actually manage to avoid knocking him over when he lost his balance, but he grabbed Kyouji’s arm in the process. Luckily, it was the uninjured one, but Kyouji flinched anyway, before a look of exasperated amusement came over his face.

            “...and then there were four.” Kyouji was apparently keeping track of the team members who had run into him. Hiro stifled a laugh as he skimmed through the papers; it seemed that the only innocent ones left were Baymax, Gogo, and himself.

            “My bad, dude. You’re Kyouji, right? I’ve heard so much about you! Well, only what the others said, but you survived being hit full on by a car! Dude! That’s so cool! Did you do a flip? Do you have super strength? Maybe a healing factor?”

            “...What?”

            Hiro looked on in amusement, comparing the scene mentally with a puppy meeting an owl, since Fred was practically jumping around as per the norm, and Kyouji was standing there somewhat shell-shocked, looking to Wasabi for either assistance or clarification.

            “Don’t worry about it, he does this with everyone.”

            “Not everyone.”

            At this moment, Honey Lemon and Tadashi finally made their way through the door.

            “Fred, are you terrorizing him already?” Honey Lemon sounded almost reproachful, causing Fred to take a step back, out of Kyouji’s personal space, who visibly relaxed. She turned to Kyouji with a smile.

            “I’m glad to see that you’re alright. Hiro had said so, but he’s been known to overlook things.”

            Hiro looked up, slightly affronted. “I resent that comment!”

            Honey Lemon giggled. “Anyway, it’s good to see you again, but I do need to get going. See you around.” Waving, she made her way to the door.

            “See you.”

            Hiro noticed Tadashi hanging back, and indicated with his head to talk to Kyouji. Tadashi twisted his fingers together and approached him.

            “Hello.”

            Kyouji looked down at him, pausing momentarily before addressing him. “Hey, you’re... um... it begins with a ‘T’...”

            Before he could continue, Fred interrupted him. “It’s okay, he has a new name now. You have to call him ‘Teddy.’ It’s practically the law.”

            Tadashi sighed, crossing his arms around his middle.

            Kyouji just laughed softly. “Yeah, okay, sure. I can remember that.”

            Hiro had finished looking through the papers and was satisfied. He quickly filed them away, not knowing when he might need them. Gesturing to Kyouji, he led him to the separate machines, explaining each of their functions.

            “You don’t have to pick up everything at once, since one of the two of us,” Hiro indicated to himself and Wasabi, “is going to be with you at first, but there may come days where I have to leave you here on your own, so you need to know how to run everything.”

            Kyouji simply nodded as Hiro began to explain the different settings on the coffee machine that was most likely to work well.


 

            Tadashi watched his brother as he showed Kyouji around and explained various aspects of the job, with interjections from Fred or Wasabi every now and then.

            Thinking back to the first time he had run into Kyouji, he tried to remember what had made him seem... off. However, try as he might, Tadashi couldn’t figure out what had made him wary in the first place, and he wasn’t being fair to Kyouji by continuing to treat him a certain way based on a split-second judgment.

            Besides, he had more pressing matters on his mind than his brother’s employment choices. Try as he might, he couldn’t get his eyes to do more than water, and if he couldn’t get some tears he couldn’t test them. If he couldn’t test them... then he wouldn’t find out if he could use them. If he could... maybe...

            He felt like he was brimming with frustration, and he just needed something to push him over the edge, and he would have what he needed.

            But... He looked back over to Kyouji. Would it even be okay to start crying now? Fred’s antics were bad enough; it wouldn’t do to add more freakiness to the mix.

            Tadashi found a seat and laid his head on his arms to more comfortably view the on goings of the café, and didn’t move until Hiro had said goodbye to the other three and had shown them out the door.  

            As Hiro was locking the door, Tadashi walked over and lifted his arms in the universal sign for ‘up.’ It was comforting to have someone carry him, when he was willing, and he figured he should take advantage of it while he still could.

            Hiro looked slightly surprised, but complied, easily lifting Tadashi into his arms before making his way up the stairs. Tadashi curled slightly, resting his head on his brother’s shoulder. Purposefully being on the verge of tears all day was exhausting.

            Hiro dropped him off on the couch in the living room, claiming that it was too early to go to sleep yet.

            “So, what’s up? How are the ‘tests’ coming along?”

            Tadashi scrunched up his face, bringing his knees up to rest his chin on them.

            “Terribly. Every time I think I’m close to crying, Fred will say something, or my mind will try and negate what I was thinking to cause it, and the tears won’t come.”

            “Hey, don’t worry. There’s no rush.”

            Tadashi looked up at Hiro, sharply, adopting an expression that was almost a glare. “How can you say that?”

            Hiro’s brow lowered in confusion. “What d-?”            

            “What do you mean there’s no rush? Of course there’s a rush! I have to know how this works, or I can’t- I might...” Tadashi bit his lower lip and started to tremble.

            Hiro was torn between comforting his brother and just letting him ride out the emotions in order to get the tears that were causing the issue in the first place. Grimacing slightly, he reached for a vial, uncapping it and passing it to Tadashi, who merely took it and rolled it between his hands. He was upset, but he wasn’t crying... not yet.

            “I-I just... I don’t want to make it worse.”

            “Make what worse?” Hiro was a genius, but there were different types of intelligence, and whatever Tadashi was referring to, he was at a loss.

            “Aunt Cass, you bonehead!” Tadashi’s voice broke on the last syllable, and tears were in his eyes. “It’s just... with my tears, I might be able to help her. I could fix her. But I can’t get it wrong! I don’t even know if it can help someone in a coma! What if her body rejects it? I might hurt her!”

            Tadashi had reached the tipping point, and was crying in earnest, catching the orange tears as they fell as best he could through his sobs.

            Hiro felt sick at the sight.

            Moving over to sit next to him, Hiro gently took the vial from his hands and capped it, setting it aside before he gathered Tadashi into his arms and began to run his fingers through his hair in a soothing gesture. This misery was unnecessary; he’d already proven he could get the tears through laughter. There was no reason to let Tadashi continue like this.

            “It’s going to be okay. I promise. We’ll figure something out.”

            Hiro sat there holding him until he finally cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

          "'Dashi. 'Dashi, wake up." Hiro gently shook the shoulder of the sleeping child, trying to be nice after the stress of the previous evening.

          "mm... no." Still half asleep, Tadashi buried his face in the pillow, pulling the covers up to his ears in an attempt to return to sleep.

          "I've gotta open the shop, so I won't be back to wake you later. Come on." Hiro tried to hide the grin threatening to take over his face. He almost hoped Tadashi wouldn't get up on his own, so he could give him a taste of his own 'big brother' medicine. However, to be fair, he had to give him a chance.

          Tadashi simply grumbled, "Make what's-his-face do it."

          As the small form continued to show no signs of getting out of bed, Hiro set his hand on top of the covers.

          "Alright, don't say I didn't try."

          Abruptly yanking back the covers, Hiro scooped Tadashi up and tossed him into the air, catching him a bit closer to the ground than he had intended.

          Tadashi shrieked, taking a vice grip on Hiro's arms and glaring up at his traitor brother. "Hiro!"

          Wincing slightly, Hiro laughed. "You always made that seem so easy. Glad I caught you."

          "I never actually let go of you!"

          Hiro's face clearly indicated that he disagreed. Placing Tadashi back on the bed, he began to walk towards the stairs. "Well, now that you're up, Teddy, you may as well get ready. Didn't you want to do some more testing today, or something?"

          Tadashi didn't reply as Hiro left the room, opting instead to try and take steady breaths to calm his racing heart after the panic-inducing wake up call. Falling was not a fun feeling.

          Scrubbing at his face, he felt the dried remains of tear-tracks on his cheeks, reminders of the problems of the day before. Tadashi glanced over at the desk next to his bed, noticing the capped vial nearly filled with tears. Opening a drawer beneath the desk, Tadashi pulled out two other vials, before climbing up in his chair.

          With the utmost care, Tadashi distributed the liquid evenly between the three vials, using the desk to hold them steady as he poured. When the task was finished, he placed all three along a test-tube rack. Resting his head on his folded arms, he watching the orange liquid swirl as it settled, and let his mind wander.

          If they worked the way he hoped they would, the tears could help so many people, but like any unknown substance, the margin for error could be deadly. Tadashi felt his gut clench when his mind provided mental pictures of what could happen: blood rushing to expel the unknown compound... a patient going into anaphylactic shock... the orange fluid acting like a toxin and racing through the bloodstream...

          Resisting the irrational urge to knock the vials off the table, Tadashi dug his chin into his arm, using the slight pain to derail that train of thought. He'd just be really careful. Besides, he had nearly infinite test samples, so long as he could actually produce the tears. Their acquisition was awkward enough.

          Pushing back from the desk, Tadashi began to change into everyday clothes without paying much attention, as his mind was still preoccupied. It was strange to cry with an end in mind, and the action felt... insincere. Even though the emotions leading up crying were his actual feelings, the collection of the tears made it seem like what he was feeling was less important than what he needed the tears for.

          And in a way, this was true. Crying had been a rare thing for Tadashi before the fire, and even after, he had become used to suppressing it or distracting himself. Now that the tears were useful, crying was demanded, and was even considered cheap. In addition, he could probably never freely cry again without feeling like he was wasting his tears if he didn't collect them.

          Tadashi found himself selfishly wishing that the tears wouldn't have any effect on other people, if only to take that burden from him. Shaking his head, he banished the thought. It was better to help other people and suffer a little, than to keep something like this to himself.

          'Besides,' Tadashi thought as he pulled on a clean shirt and jacket, 'Hiro was right when he said there were other ways to collect the tears.' He just had to find them. Tickling worked well and all, but he'd prefer to not feel like his lungs were constricting and sides were aching all of the time. There was a limit.

          Fully dressed, Tadashi made his way down the stairs to the living area just above the café. He hadn't bothered to pull on shoes; it was his house, after all. Glancing over at Baymax's crate, he felt bad that he hadn't made much time for his creation, if only to figure out what all Hiro had changed about him. There simply hadn't been much need for him.

          Baymax was meant to be a healthcare companion, not a friend, and at the end of the day was to go back into the box until he was needed again. Tadashi hadn't even planned on him staying in a home, aside from the possibility of assisted living. Baymax belonged in a hospital or a pediatrician's office, not the corner of a house to act as an every-now-and-then-first-aid-kit.

          Making up his mind to talk to Hiro about it later, Tadashi continued on his way to the café, and spotted Gogo chatting with Hiro over the counter. It was still a good thirty minutes before the café was supposed to open, and Tadashi hadn't even heard her arrive.

          Shrugging slightly, he began to look over the options for breakfast, since it would take far too much effort to climb onto the kitchen counter upstairs to reach the cupboard... if Hiro even kept any breakfast food there anymore. Seeing only cherry and strawberry tarts, Tadashi pouted slightly before he noticed Hiro pulling the blueberry variety from the oven.

          As soon as Hiro set the pan down, Tadashi used a stool to climb up to the counter and grab one of the pastries off of it.

          "Careful! That's still hot!" Hiro reached towards Tadashi before aborting the movement, noticing that Tadashi didn't even seem affected.

          The five year old just blinked before looking between the tart in his hand and Hiro. "No, it's not. It's a bit mushy, though." He took a large bite, savoring the sweet taste of blueberries.

          Hiro rolled his eyes in exasperation. "It's mushy because it's still hot. I just took that from the oven. You watched me do it."

          "Oh." Tadashi shrugged before taking another bite. "I thought you'd just left them in there a while to conserve counter space while they cooled."

          Hiro looked on, dumbstruck, as Tadashi finished the tart, which by all means should have destroyed the inside of his mouth, before reaching for another.

          "Unbelievable."

          Gogo simply smiled before reaching over and ruffling Tadashi's hair, drawing noises of protest. The cut was slightly longer than Tadashi used to keep it, and left to its own devices, it could grow to become as unruly as Hiro's had been. It would need to be trimmed soon.

          "Good morning to you too, Teddy." Gogo had caught onto the nickname quickly, finding amusement in the small pout or glare she would receive upon using it.

          Tadashi realized with a jolt that he hadn't greeted her. "Morning, Gogo." Turning fully in his seat to face her, he quickly finished the second tart, deciding that it was enough for now. "What are you doing here so early?"

          "Yeah, Gogo. I thought you had that project to finish?"

          Gogo raised an eyebrow at Hiro, who turned back towards the kitchen supplies while making the gesture of zipping his lips. Gogo's wrath, when fully actualized, was quite terrifying. Tadashi simply looked on without any idea what was happening.

          "I just thought I'd stop by for a quick breakfast and to see how things were going."

          Tadashi was immediately suspicious. Gogo didn't just 'stop by.' It wasn't how she operated. Gogo was very task oriented, with few exceptions. She had to be invited to something or have her own specific reason for attending.

          She requested coffee and a bagel from Hiro, who muttered something about not even being open yet, before continuing to fill her order. After receiving her food, Gogo stood up, placing the bag on one of the tables.

          "Hey before I go, can you do me a favor?"

          Yup, he knew it. Tadashi looked up warily, never one to agree on a favor for Gogo immediately. Last time he'd agreed to something, he ended up with more than a few bumps and bruises.

          "I don't think..."

          "Oh, it won't be like last time, just stand up."

          Tadashi slowly eased off the stool and stood in front of her, flinching slightly when she abruptly took out a measuring tape. She extended it with practiced ease, putting it behind him from head to foot and then across his back.

          "Done, thanks." She ruffled his hair again before grabbing her food and leaving quickly, ignoring the questioning look Tadashi sent her.

          After a moment, he shrugged his shoulders before sitting back down and grabbing another pastry. He was hungry again.

          "So, where's your new employee?" Tadashi looked up at Hiro, gesturing to the otherwise empty café.

          "I asked him to come in a little later, before the lunch rush. Wednesday mornings are slow, and there's no reason to ask him to be here earlier than most people wake up if there won't be anything for him to do. I'm going to pay him by the day instead of hours, since the café's weird about business, anyway."

          "Hmm, okay." Tadashi wasn't that concerned about it, since Hiro seemed to know what he was doing.

          As the first couple of customers trickled through, Tadashi amused himself by seeing how many saltshakers he could stack one on top of another. He had gotten ten, and was struggling to reach the top to place another one when Fred burst through the door, startling him and causing him to knock over the tower. Luckily they were plastic, but salt got everywhere. Hiro sighed, realizing that he would likely be the one to have to clean it up, and went to grab a broom and pan.

          "Hey, Teddy! You ready do some more testing?" Fred was practically bouncing in place, making a backpack rattle on his back. "I brought a few things." He turned his shoulder, letting the bag fall down onto a table. He was about to open it when Hiro came back, wielding a broom.

          "Not in the cafe, Fred." Hiro pointed towards the back door with the broom handle before starting to sweep up the mess.

          Fred pouted before nudging Tadashi towards the stairs. Tadashi grabbed two of the vials from upstairs before they trudged down to the garage. Fred opened the bag to show various kits for testing with different blood types. As he set them all out, Tadashi uncapped one of the vials, setting the other aside for later. They had enough in the single vial to test with each kit and even had a little extra.

          "We can give the rest of this to Honey Lemon for other tests." Tadashi stated, passing the nearly empty vial to Fred, who slipped it into his pocket. "Where is she, anyway? I thought she was coming by today?"

          Fred looked up at him, slightly surprised. "Huh, I thought she would have texted you, too. She's caught up at work." Fred pulled at the chapped skin of his lips with his teeth; the November wind wasn't very kind to him. "Wasabi's in class, and I have no idea what Gogo's up to."

          "Oh, I guess I didn't check my phone." Tadashi usually silenced it if he didn't want any distractions, but sometimes he missed things. "Gogo actually stopped by this morning, you just missed her."

          "What? She didn't even wait for me." Fred scrunched his face and placed a hand over his heart in mock offense, before laughing along with Tadashi.

          The two got to work, using each kit with different amounts of tears being placed alongside the chemicals that would react like the blood types would. Once they got their results, they headed back to the café after Tadashi grabbed his phone from upstairs, and were pleased to see that business was still slow.

          Hiro sat down with Fred and Tadashi, setting out sandwiches for an early lunch.

          "So what all have you figured out?" Hiro asked, munching on a sandwich, before turning to Fred. "And stop pulling on your lip, you've already made it bleed, and you're just going to make it worse."

          Fred stopped his actions, sticking his tongue out briefly at Hiro, drawing a laugh from Tadashi.

          "Okay, as far as we know, the tears don't harm other people. No weird reactions from the different blood types." Fred proudly stated.

          "That's good." Hiro looked over at Tadashi, trying to assess his response.

          "Now we just have to prove it." Fred smiled widely, letting them know he was about to do something crazy or stupid... likely both. He whipped the nearly empty vial out of his pocket, making Tadashi jump up.

          "Don't! Fred, you need to wait for Honey Lemon!"

          Tadashi tried to reach for it, but his small stature prevented him from succeeding. Hiro got up out of his chair, stepping closer to Fred.

          "Fred, what are you doing?"

          "No worries." He smiled before opening the vial and downing it, wiping his lips when he'd finished.

          Tadashi let out a little squeak, reaching up and grabbing onto Fred's shirt.         

          "Why'd you do that? We don't know if that could hurt you and-" He was cut off by Fred putting his hand up.

          "Teddy," Fred said quietly before his grin grew wider and he raised his voice, "I feel GREAT!"

          To prove his point, he jumped up onto the table, shouting, "Victory!" The few customers in the store stared in bewilderment.

          "Fred!" Hiro hissed in admonishment, pulling him down. "You idiot. That was not a good idea."

          He continued to grumble at him as he pulled him away from view, into the back storage room. Tadashi and Hiro started lecturing Fred when a voice behind them broke their conversation.

          "Is this a bad time?"

          "Oh, hey, Kyouji." Hiro turned around, leading him back towards the counter. "Sorry, slight problem. Anyway, the rush should be here soon, so let's get to work."


          Back in the pantry, Tadashi was frantically asking Fred hundreds of questions.

          "Are you experiencing chills? Dry mouth? Do you feel nauseas? Are you dizzy? Lightheaded?" He pulled Fred's hand towards him to check if he had broken out in hives.

          "Teddy, I told you, I've never felt better. This morning I woke up with a killer headache but right after I drank that stuff, poof, headache gone." Fred ran his tongue over his previously chapped lips. "Even my lips are better. They aren't bleeding anymore."

          He gently pulled his hand from Tadashi's grasp and put it on Tadashi's shoulder, leaning down to eye level. "Really, I'm okay."

          "Then it works." Tadashi stared in shock for a moment before a wide smile spread across his face. "It really works! I-I can help Aunt Cass. I can- oh, this is amazing!" Tadashi's hands clenched as he brought them up in excitement.

          Fred's eyes slightly widened in shock; he hadn't known what Tadashi specifically wanted to do this for, though the explanation made sense. He smiled as well. "Yeah, you can."

          "I mean, I'll have to double check things, but this- this could work!" Tadashi started pacing, picking up speed as he walked back and forth. "Oh, I wish Honey Lemon was here, then we could just-"

          "Haha, slow down, Teddy." Fred reached out to still him. "You're making me dizzy."

          Tadashi rubbed the back of his neck, laughing softly. "Yeah, okay. Sorry."

          When the two of them went back upstairs, Fred spotted his discarded backpack.

          "Oh! I almost forgot."

          Fred reached into the bag and pulled out a packet, handing it to Tadashi, who looked at it questioningly.

          "It's your papers, ID, and stuff. A bunch of it is just your original stuff, but a couple of things are new. You just have to declare your birthdate, since your old one doesn't make logical sense."

          Tadashi blinked at Fred's explanation, before looked between him and the packet in his hands.

          "Already?" Tadashi raised an eyebrow at Fred; that was unbelievably fast.

          "Yup. Don't question me." Fred crossed his arms, leaning back slightly, looking very smug.

          "I'm questioning you."

          "Nope. Not allowed." Fred covered his ears, and Tadashi giggled softly.

          "Thanks Fred."

          Suddenly, Tadashi reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone, seeing that he had indeed missed the text message from Honey Lemon.

          "I better call Honey to get her up to date."

          "Sounds good. I'll set up the video games. I've been practicing on SSBB, and I'm going to beat you this time."

          "Mhmm, sure you are."

          Tadashi called Honey Lemon, but only got her voice mail. He left her a message about the test results and what Fred's recent idiocy that ended well. Knowing Hiro would be busy helping Kyouji downstairs, Fred and Tadashi settled in for a long session of gaming.

Chapter Text

            As the lunch rush calmed down, Hiro busied himself with showing Kyouji more of the things he would need to know for the times he’d be working on his own. Most of the tasks were pretty menial, if repetitive and time-consuming. Hiro wasn’t entirely certain how quickly he should expect Kyouji to learn everything, since he was too aware that the innate ability to pick up on things quickly was not something shared by everyone.

            Even within his group of friends, Hiro would find himself in the middle of saying something, only to look up and realize his ramblings had been impossible to follow. He wondered how many times he had unintentionally shut someone out of a conversation without realizing it. As it was, Kyouji seemed to catch on pretty fast.

            In the very least, his short-term memory was good enough that Hiro had to point out that he could just write down the order’s specifics on the previously untouched notepad when it got busy enough that Kyouji was trying to manage four orders at a time. He did well during the busiest parts of the day, when Hiro usually felt the most stressed, though he wasn’t the most social person in the world. His task-oriented approach allowed him to work quickly, and it gave Hiro the free time talk with the customers to make up for Kyouji’s reticent manner.

            Despite his withdrawn nature, the initial responses from the regulars towards Kyouji were civil, even positive... except for Ms. Masuda. Hiro cringed when he saw her come through the door, and he had to wonder if she carried that umbrella around as a weapon, since it clearly wasn’t going to rain anytime soon.

            When she approached the counter, and Hiro tried to intervene by approaching her first, but she ignored him and directly addressed Kyouji with a “Hey, you.”

            To be fair, Kyouji didn’t have a nametag or anything, but Hiro bristled at the occurrence: didn’t the old lady have anything better to do than antagonize him? Kyouji ignored the rudeness and took her order in the same detached manner that he had taken everyone else’s in, before retreating to put it together.

            “I know you wanted to get out of working, but I didn’t realize you’d be dumb enough to hire the first piece of trash that came through your door.” Ms. Masuda readjusted the strap on her purse, looking around with a bored expression, as if she had been discussing the weather.

            Hiro had never wanted to dump coffee on a customer as badly as he did at that moment. “Get out.”

            Ms. Masuda looked up in shock, speechless for a moment. “Excuse me?”

            “I believe I asked you to leave. I won’t tolerate people speaking about my employees that way, so unless you want to apologize to Kyouji, I’d suggest you make yourself scarce.” Hiro crossed him arms, looking between Kyouji and the lady, who were wearing similar expressions of shock, which Hiro would have found amusing if he hadn’t been so angry.

            She stood there for a second, as if processing what had just happened, before she turned with a huff and walked out the door, closing it firmly behind her. Hiro let out a sigh.

            Well, that could have gone worse.

            “You really didn’t have to do that...“

            Hiro leaned against the counter, scowling at the door as he responded, “I disagree. She never has anything worthwhile to say, and I think this place is better off without her.” Hiro nodded at the coffee Kyouji had been preparing for her, intent on changing the subject. “Do you want that?”

            “Um, not really.” Kyouji looked down at the cup, like he’d forgotten he was holding it.

            “Gimme.”

            Kyouji handed over the drink, and Hiro took a large swig, before grimacing.

            “Ugh, decaf. What’s even the point if you can’t get energy from it? No, thank you.”

            Kyouji laughed as Hiro dropped the cup into the trash.

 


 

            As the afternoon passed, no other incidents worthy of note occurred. Through some miracle, the infamous devil machine hadn’t destroyed anything yet, and Hiro kept his fingers crossed in hopes that it would continue to behave. Hiro noted that Kyouji was comfortable whenever he was behind the counter, but that he seemed to withdraw into himself if he had to venture out into the crowd. He’d have to keep that in mind when divvying up duties.

            The café was nearly empty in the time between the lunch and dinner crowd, and Hiro busied himself with wiping down tables as Kyouji did some dishes. Hiro was debating the merits of stopping for a lunch break during the relative quiet when he heard Kyouji’s stomach growl.

            “Hungry?” Hiro laughed lightly, his dilemma having been solved for him, and shuffled towards the kitchen to make a couple of sandwiches.

            Kyouji flushed a little, ducking his head and not saying anything.

            Hiro put together a couple of overflowing sandwiches and put them on paper plates, pushing one of them towards Kyouji. The shocked look didn’t really surprise Hiro; it was pretty obvious people didn’t just offer him food. Hiro started on his own sandwich and looked at him as if he was daring him to refuse it.

            “I can pay-“

            Hiro quickly shook his head, swallowing his bite before speaking. “No need, my friends and I are always grabbing things from the café, feel free to do the same. Just be sure to mark it in inventory so we know when things will run out.”

            Hiro knew Aunt Cass would want it this way, anyways. She always fed any person who came in, regardless of whether they could pay or not.

            "I- Thanks." Kyouji moved a strand of hair from his eyes before gingerly picking up the food and taking a huge bite of it.

            Hiro grinned, before quickly finishing his own sandwich and disposing of the dish. When a couple came into the cafe, Kyouji moved as if to take their order, but Hiro made him sit down to finish eating, taking care of them himself.

            The rest of the day went by slowly, with not many more customers coming in. Kyouji helped Hiro with the small tasks of closing the shop before leaving with a paper bag with some food in it that Hiro had practically shoved into his hands.

 


 

            This wasn’t supposed to happen.

            Kyouji bit into his lower lip as he made his way to a nearby safe house, the paper bag clutched in one hand.

            Where were they a couple of years ago?

            Kyouji’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard his phone ring in his pocket, which he quickly pulled out and checked the caller ID. He let out a breath of relief; it was only Himitsu. Still, it was strange for him to call so regularly.

            “Hello?”

            “I see you.”

            “Way to be a creeper, Himitsu.” Kyouji looked around, finally spotting the brunette leaning against the rail of a fire escape. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

            “Hm... nope.” Himitsu hung up before descending and coming to stand in front of Kyouji. “What’s in the bag, Jadoku?”

            “Just some food.”

            Himitsu chuckled. “Stealing from ‘em already? Dang, man-“

            “It was given to me.” Kyouji wasn’t big on interrupting people, but why did he have to assume he stole everything he owned? Though... it was mostly true, if paying for things with stolen money counted.

            “Well, isn’t that sweet?” Himitsu’s voice held a tinge of derision.

            “Shove off, Himitsu.” Kyouji ducked his head and started walking, but Himitsu stayed by his side.

            “I did warn you.” Himitsu walked with his hands tucked behind his head, glancing sideways at Kyouji. “People’re always nicer when they think you belong.”

            “Just stop it.” Kyouji glared at Himitsu, slipping his free hand into his pocket to hold one of his syringes. He wouldn’t use it, but the thought was comforting in a twisted way.

            “No.” Himitsu walked in front of Kyouji, stopping abruptly and forcing him to do the same. “You clearly need to hear this.”

            Kyouji moved to walk around him, but was stopped by a hand on his arm. “Don’t touch me.”

            “Fine. But hear me out.” Himitsu removed his hand, shoving both of them into his pockets. “Even if you bail on this- an’ don’t act like you didn’t think of that- none of this’ll last.”

            “I get it, Himitsu, I-“

            “I don’t think you do. I’m surprised you got the job, Jadoku. They know nothing about who or what you are.”

            “Well, obviously not.” Kyouji went to great lengths to hide his... condition. He was almost positive that even Himitsu didn’t know the full extent of it. “Isn’t that the idea?”

            Himitsu sighed, running a hand over the back of his head as they continued walking. “Just keep your head in reality, and ya might want to brace yourself.”

            Kyouji sent a questioning look his way, and was answered with a grin.

            “The Fujitas planned on meeting with ya today, and I said I’d pick ya up.”

            Kyouji felt like a block of ice had been dropped into his stomach. Himitsu laughed lightly at the brief expression of terror that flitted across his face.

            “Come on, they aren’t that bad.” Himitsu tried a more comforting approach, but only received raised eyebrows in response.

            Uh... they actually are.

            Himitsu continued, ignoring the incredulous looks Kyouji sent his way. “-’sides, they can’t wait to meet ya. ‘specially since they heard what ya can do. I don’t think you’ll have any issues.”

            None of this was in any way allaying Kyouji’s fears. Himitsu turned onto a street that Kyouji hadn’t had reason to go down in ages, and fell silent for a moment. “D’you see anything useful while you were in there, or were ya just wasting time?”

            “I couldn’t just wander around, but... I’m positive there’s a living area upstairs, and the kid’s comfortable enough to run around without shoes on.” Kyouji shrugged. “I’d say the kid actually lives there, especially since Hiro- his guardian, I guess- locked the café up from the inside, but I don’t know what’s up there.”

            “Hm.” Himitsu grinned. “Guess you’ll just have to get ‘em to take ya up there, unless ya can get him alone.”

            Kyouji scoffed. “Easier said than done.” Glancing around, he made note of the route they were taking, on the off-chance that he had to make a run for it. “He’s got this... posse, that spends time with him while Hiro’s busy.”

            Kyouji ran a hand back through the strands of hair that had fallen in his face. “And if that wasn’t enough, there’s this... robot. He’s some sort of first-aid kit with legs, but who knows what else it can do.”

            Himitsu paused for split-second before he started laughing. “Y-yer afraid of a first-aid kit?”

            “That’s not-!” Kyouji crossed his arms, walking slightly ahead of the other, though he wasn’t exactly sure where he was going. “Ugh, that’s not what I meant.”

            It had already been too close of a call when it had tried to scan him earlier that week, though he wasn’t sure how specific of a scan it would have been. Maybe it was just an x-ray machine... or something. Either way, Kyouji thought as he absentmindedly pulled at the bandages on his left arm, better safe than sorry.

            Besides that, Kyouji was well aware that things were often more than they appeared to be, and who’s to say there weren’t more creations lying around somewhere?

            “It sounds like that’s exactly what you meant.”

            Kyouji spared a glare back at Himitsu, before slowing down so they were walking side by side again. “Even if it can’t do anything else, I’d rather the med-bot not announce something they don’t need to know.”

            “Alright, alright.” Himitsu chuckled.

            The two lapsed into silence, allowing Kyouji’s mind to return to the approaching meeting. As he put the paper bag into one of his jacket pocket, a thought occurred to him.

            What’s Himitsu doing here, anyway? I thought he was staying out of this...

            Kyouji glanced over at him, taking in his unconcerned expression and easy stride. They were abnormal reactions to an upcoming meeting with such a threatening presence, but that was sort of how Himitsu approached everything.

            They took another turn and were suddenly looking down a long street that ended in a cul-de-sac, with tall buildings enclosing the area. Leaning against the white doors of a van parked at the end of the street, were two... artistically bedecked women.

            One was rather still, balancing on her skates as if waiting for an incentive to strike, while the other laughed and rolled her feet back and forth along the pavement. The laughing woman had one hand on a sharp-tipped parasol, and with the other was tapping out a rhythm on the side of the van.

            It was the still woman who noticed the approaching pair first. With a grin, she shifted, allowing a spiked ball-and-chain to clang to the ground before she moved, flitting to a stop directly in front of Kyouji. If he hadn’t been so shocked, he likely would have flinched back, but fear held him in place.

            At least she doesn’t have her weapon in hand.

            The woman grinned as if he had passed some sort of test, before glancing back to her fellow Fujita. Leaning her parasol against the side of the van, she quickly approached her side, before giggling and skating in a small circle around the pair.

            “So this is Jadoku.” Coming to a complete standstill for the first time since Kyouji had seen her, the second woman’s grin was becoming unsettling. Kyouji fixed his eyes on a point between and behind the two of them, keeping them in sight, but not looking either of them in the eye. “Hm.

            She looked him up and down, scanning him as if looking for something. Her grin became a proper smile, and she leaned in towards him.

            “I’m Bella, try to remember. It isn’t difficult.” She tilted her head slightly to the side. “I’d hate it if you forgot my name.” Her smile widened before she continued. “I like your eyes.”

            ...what?

            Kyouji’s eyes snapped to Bella’s and another layer of unease fell into his stomach. Was he supposed to say something? The other woman spoke up before he could form any words.

            “And I’m Shoki. We’ve heard quite a bit about you.”

            Kyouji glanced back at Himitsu for a second, before returning his eyes to the current threat speaker, who had apparently decided it was her turn to walk around him. Kyouji tried to ignore the growing feeling of being a cornered animal.

            Bella and... Show-key, Showki, Shouki? How would one spell that? Whatever, just don’t forget, or they may kill you.

            Apparently keeping an eye on Shoki was the wrong choice between the two women, and Kyouji nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand rest on his back and push upwards to his shoulder. As it was, Kyouji pulled away with something akin to a hiss, though the sound resulted from the surprising jolt of pain when his fangs momentarily flicked down and sliced open his tongue to help deal with the ‘threat.’

            Why do they have to do that?

            The acrid taste of blood was not helping as Kyouji clenched his jaw and desperately tried to think of a way to keep the now pouting Fujita from deciding he had somehow offended her.

            “-‘ey, I told you he doesn’t like to be touched.”

            Well, it was nice knowing you, Himitsu.

            Kyouji was surprised, however, when Bella did nothing more than cross her arms and lean back on her skates, pouting as she did so.

            “I guess we’ll get down to business, then.” Shoki had reentered Kyouji’s line of vision and he didn’t know whether or not to be relieved about it. “Though it’s doubtful, you may get the kid in the next couple of days, but we’re aware it may take weeks. Whenever you do, activate the switch that was given to you, and get to a relatively safe place if you can. Otherwise, keep moving. We’ll be able to track where you are when the beacon is on, and we will travel to the last known location should it turn off again.”

            “Don’t turn it on if you don’t have the kid. We have other things to do, and though this takes precedence, a false alarm will not reflect well upon you. Don’t try and do this without us. Don’t take the kid to a public safe house, and whatever you do, don’t let him die. Do your thing: drug him, paralyze him, however you refer to it, but know that from now until he is safely delivered, your life is tied to his. Clear?”

            Kyouji nodded, not trusting his voice.

            Apparently, this was an acceptable response, as Shoki smiled before turning and heading for the van with Bella close on her heels.

            “It’s a shame we can’t stay and chat, but we’ve got a couple of other assignments we’d like to get out of the way before this one comes to fruition.” Shoki grinned over her shoulder. “I’m sure we’ll see you around, Jadoku.”

            Bella turned and waved. “Bye.”

            As the van disappeared down the street, Kyouji let out a sigh of relief and Himitsu started laughing.

            “I’m so, so glad we didn’t try this on the phone. Y-you do realize ya didn’t say a single word, right?” Himitsu approached Kyouji, slightly doubled over in laughter.

            “Was it necessary to?” Kyouji turned to face Himitsu, trying to ignore the taste of his own blood. He ran his tongue over his teeth, grimacing when he realized he had only made it worse.

            “Are you bleeding?” Himitsu moved a little closer as if trying to get a better look, to which Kyouji promptly backed away. “D’you bite your tongue or something?”

            “Or something.”

            At Himitsu’s questioning look, Kyouji realized he probably should have just agreed with him. However, after a moment he just shrugged at Kyouji, before turning to leave.

            “Ja ne, Jadoku.”

            Kyouji waited until he was gone before he made himself comfortable on the curbside and pulled out the paper bag. Night was falling, and it would be nice to go to sleep with a full stomach.

Chapter Text

            After locking up the café, Hiro headed upstairs to check on Fred and Tadashi. Fred had fallen asleep, and was sprawled out on the couch, while Tadashi sat on the floor, concentrating on the results from the previous tests. He looked like he was mentally debating something as his eyes flicked back and forth aimlessly; he didn’t even notice Hiro approach him.

            “Teddy.” Hiro had to shake his brother’s shoulder a little to snap him out of it.

            “Hm?” Tadashi looked up, before glancing at the clock. “Is it that late already?”

            Hiro laughed before going over to Fred and kicking his leg lightly. Fred muttered in his sleep and turned over, but misjudged how big the couch was and fell off with a loud ‘oomph.’

            The Hamada brothers laughed, and Hiro lent a hand to Fred to help him up.

            “It’s getting pretty late, Fred.”

            Fred hummed and pulled out his phone. He pressed a single button before putting it back in his pocket.

            “Heathcliff’s on the way.” Still half-asleep, Fred curled back up on the couch to doze until his arrival.

            Hiro turned to Tadashi with a grin. “Well, he seems normal to me.”

            “Hm... Maybe.” Tadashi frowned. “I’m still confused, though.”

            Hiro inclined his head, prompting him to continue.

            “I mean, he drank them, and he was healed. I didn’t.” Tadashi poked at his knee. “So, is it contact? If so, how close does it have to be to the injury? Did his chapped lips have anything to do with it?” Tadashi sighed. “There are too many variables...”

            Hiro ruffled Tadashi hair, chuckling at the indignant squawks of protest. “You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be.”

            Tadashi crossed his arms, clearly about to begin another lecture on the importance of tests and safety measures, but Hiro spoke first.

            “It doesn’t have any negative effects, whether you drink it or apply it directly, right?”

            “Well, yeah...”

            Hiro grinned. “Then who’s to say you have to get it right the first try?” Hiro put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “If it can’t hurt her, you’ve got plenty of time for multiple attempts.”

            “Hmm.” Tadashi looked down, before giving Hiro the infamous ‘I’ve made up my mind and I’ll pout if you say no’ look. “Can we go visit Aunt Cass tomorrow?”

            Hiro blanched slightly, surprised by the abrupt change of heart. “Uh...”

            Fred’s phone gave off a low beep and he stumbled sleepily to the front door, wishing the Hamadas a good night as an afterthought.

            Once Fred was gone, Tadashi turned back to his brother. Hiro still looked a bit uncertain. “Well, Wasabi’s got class until 3:00, and I can’t leave Kyouji on his own on his second day; that just wouldn’t be fair. So, maybe after that?”

            Tadashi nodded, and made his way towards the kitchen, with Hiro trailing behind him.

            “What are you doing?” Hiro was a bit suspicious, but maybe Tadashi was hungry, although there were dirty dishes in the sink that indicated an earlier meal. Hiro didn’t do anything further until he realized Tadashi had climbed up onto the stool and then the counter in order to reach the knives.

            “Haha, no.” Hiro pulled Tadashi into his arms and away from the counter. “Explanation first.”

            Tadashi frowned at him, before settling more comfortably in his arms so that Hiro’s fingers weren’t digging into his ribs. Didn’t Hiro know how and how not to hold a kid? “I just want to do some last minute testing.”

            “Of your healing tears... using knives... I’m going to say no to that one.”

            “But I want to try something!” Tadashi was full on pouting at this point. “I’ve still got two vials, I can do a bit with one of them and have plenty to spare.”

            Hiro sighed, before grabbing one of the smaller knives, but keeping it out of reach of Tadashi’s grasp.

            “If it’s that important to you, we’ll try it on me.” When Tadashi started to protest, Hiro interrupted him. “It’s that, or not at all. I won’t do any serious damage that I couldn’t live with. Besides, don’t you want to make sure Fred’s wasn’t a fluke? I mean, it was chapped lips and a headache; those go away pretty quickly anyway. Trying it on another person might settle your mind.”

            Hiro had him there. Tadashi made a small sound of assent before he was lowered to the ground and went to grab the extra vial. Hiro grabbed a couple of paper towels and a small cup, and took a seat on the kitchen floor. When Tadashi came back with the vial, Hiro poured a small amount into the cup before recapping the vial and setting it aside.

            “Since we know one thing that does work, let’s start with what we aren’t sure about.” Hiro made a small nick on his thumb with the knife, wincing slightly. Tadashi didn’t look too happy about it, but Hiro waved off his concern.

            “Bottoms up.” Hiro downed the liquid, but there was no visible change. “Hm. Didn’t think so, but I guess we’ll wait a bit.”

            Tadashi looked a bit worried, but Hiro simply placed one of the paper towels under his finger and watched the clock on the kitchen stove until five minutes had passed. His finger was still bleeding. “I guess drinking it doesn’t work, then.”

            Hiro opened the palm of the injured hand, and with a little help from Tadashi, poured some of the tears into his cupped hand, before simply holding them for a bit. There was no change. “Okay, not just contact.”

            Hiro looked like he was contemplating something, before he indicated towards the knife and held out his other hand. “Can you make another small incision on this hand, so I can see something?”

            Tadashi hesitated, before realizing that Hiro could just heal himself with what he had in the palm of his hand. Taking the knife, he applied as little pressure as possible to Hiro’s pointer finger and stopped the second he saw a hint of blood.

            “Thanks.” Hiro then lowered his thumb into the palm of his hand where the liquid was and watched it seam back together flawlessly. He then watched his other hand expectantly. Tadashi looked at him questioningly.

            “What are you-“

            “Yes! I thought so!” Hiro held out the finger Tadashi had cut towards him.

            It was completely healed.

            “It travels through the bloodstream, definitely.” Hiro looked very certain.

            “But Fred-“

            “Had chapped lips. He’d made them bleed, don’t you remember me telling him off for it?”

            “Yeah...” Tadashi’s brow creased in concern. “But that means Aunt Cass would need to have an open wound...”

            Hiro gave him a deadpan look, as if he was missing something obvious. “You’re the medical nerd. Think for a sec.”

            “But—oh.” Tadashi paused as the thought occurred to him, but quickly shook his head. “Isn’t putting things in someone’s IV without authorization illegal? And won’t that cause problems?”

            “Well... it could.” Hiro grinned. “Unless you know how to get away with it.”

            Tadashi glanced up at him. “...I have some concerns.”

            “No, don’t worry. We just need a diabetic insulin needle-“

            “Which you need a prescription to buy.”

            “–or we could inject it directly and risk someone seeing the injection site when they are checking her over before sending her home.”

            “Wouldn’t the tears just heal the injection site if we did that?”

            “I—oh, yeah.” Hiro ran a hand through his hair sheepishly. “I guess we could do that, if it would ease your conscience... though that’s probably just as illegal.”

            “At least this way we aren’t messing up medical equipment.”

            Hiro simply patted his head as he stood up and made his way to his room. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

            Tadashi paused. “And why do you know how to mess with an IV, anyway?”

            “Wow, look at the time, I better be getting to bed.” Hiro feigned a stretch, ignoring Tadashi’s question.

            “Hiro?” Hiro still refused to answer his question. “Hiro. Hiro. Hiiiiiro. Hiro. Answer me, Hiro.”

            “Teddy? Teddy. Ted-dy. Two can play at this game. Teddy, Teddy. Teddy.”

            “Augh! Hiro! Just tell me!”

            “Tell you what?” Hiro grinned down at Tadashi, who just threw his hands in the air before going over to his bed and climbing up onto his chair to flop onto the bed.

            “Mf mifh muf.”

            “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Hiro turned on his computer, and light spilled across the darkened room.

            “I said: I give up. My brother’s a delinquent.”

            “I don’t think you said that much.”

            “Hm.”

 


 

            Tadashi watched as people came in, got their orders, and left for three hours. Glancing at the clock again, he wondered if he could force time to go faster. So far, he had proven unsuccessful. The hour hand was still stubbornly stuck at ten, and the minute hand was taking its sweet time to get to the five.

            He also had a bad case of the jitters. It was so bad that at one point a kind lady had asked if he needed to know where the restroom was. He’d gone along with it, even thanking her when she pointed it out. What else was he going to do?

            No, ma’am. I’m just anxiously waiting for my friend to get out of his doctorate level classes so my bigger younger brother can take me to see my comatose aunt, who could possibly die at any second, but I could heal her, if I could just get to her. We could be there right now, but apparently getting the general populace their daily coffee on time is more important.

            Tadashi sighed and buried his head in his arms. He knew he should probably go do something productive, but he just couldn’t focus. He heard the obnoxious bells on the door ring, and he looked up to see another person enter the café.

            Hm, wasn’t expecting to see her.

            Gogo stopped by the counter, exchanging a few words with Hiro and Kyouji, before she turned and made her way over to where Tadashi was sitting.

            “Come on, Teddy. I’ve got something to show you.”

            “But I-“

            “Need to be back by three, yeah, I know.” Gogo started towards the door, and Tadashi hurried to keep up with her.

            “Where are we going?” Tadashi looked up at Gogo, who simply continued walking once they were outside the café, instead of leading them to a vehicle of some kind. “Gogo?”

            “It isn’t far.” Gogo grinned down at Tadashi. “Do you think you can make it, Teddy?”

            “Do I have a choice?”

            “Not really.”

 


 

            Gogo led Tadashi to something that looked like a cross between a garage and an amusement park... if the rides weren’t allowed to be connected to the track.

            This suits her...

            Tadashi followed closely behind Gogo, flinching when a cyclist swerved away from them a little later than he was comfortable with. Gogo seemed completely unperturbed as she let the chaos flow around her and made her way to the back of the building. There were a few concrete cubicles, and Gogo made a sharp turn into the second one on the left.

            Tadashi entered just as Gogo was removing a small metal contraption from a stand and hanging it on a bicycle mount reminiscent of the one she had had at SFIT.

            That is a bike. That is a small bike. That is a kid-sized bike. Oh no.

            Gogo took a step back, clearly proud of her work, and took out a small notepad.

            “So, what do you think?”

            Tadashi took a better look at the bike, noting that the wheels were maglev suspended, though there was a connector on both sides to hold them in place, as opposed to the single-sided one he remembered from Gogo’s prototype. Other than that, it looked like a normal bike, except...

            “Please tell me this has brakes.” Tadashi was not reassured when Gogo started jotting something down on her notepad.

            “...add brakes... Okay, anything else?”

            “And kid’s bikes usually have training wheels...”

            “You don’t need them.” Gogo said this with absolute certainty, but Tadashi was well aware that he didn’t have the balance that he used to possess. However, it would be nearly impossible to convince Gogo otherwise; he was surprised she had so readily agreed to brakes.

            “Uh... okay. Um...” Tadashi was drawing a blank. “I can’t think of anything else.”

            Gogo nodded and was about to put away the notepad when she turned again to Tadashi. “What color? I was going to just paint it pink, but Honey Lemon would probably steal it from you, then.”

            Tadashi laughed as he pictured Honey Lemon in her high heels and lab coat on the tiny pink bike, making her way through the streets of San Fransokyo.

            She could do it, too.

            “Could it be green... or yellow? Can you make it both?”

            Gogo rolled her eyes, as if he had asked a stupid question, but smiled anyway. “Of course I can.”

            Tadashi grinned. “That, then.”

            Making a quick note, Gogo walked over to the cluttered desk that had been shoved in the corner of the room. “Last chance for any suggestions.”

            “I’m good.”

            “Okay.” Gogo set the notepad amongst the other various items scattered across the desk. Tadashi hoped she would be able to find it again, or at least remember that brakes were necessary.

Chapter Text

           When Tadashi had returned to the café and Wasabi took over for Hiro, the brothers went to gather what they needed for the hospital visit from upstairs. Tadashi tried not to question Hiro when he unwrapped a small syringe from the sterile packaging it had been shipped in, but the look he gave him prompted an explanation: after Tadashi had gone to bed, Hiro had ordered a handful of the syringes, through completely legal means. His connection to hospitals did have to pay off eventually. Next day shipping allowed the small package to arrive while Tadashi was with Gogo.

           Drawing the orange liquid up into the syringe, Tadashi flicked it a couple of times to get rid of air bubbles, and contracted it until the only thing in it was the tears. He capped the syringe with a tiny piece of foam and slipped it into his pocket. The more they could get done at home, the better, since Tadashi still felt like they could get into major trouble for what they were doing.

           The brothers borrowed Wasabi’s van, but only after Hiro made multiple promises to not damage it or others in any way. The ride to the hospital was quiet, as Hiro attempted to drive semi-responsibly, and Tadashi sat in the backseat, twisting and folding his fingers together. Tadashi barely noticed when they pulled into the parking lot, and it was only at his brother’s prompting that he climbed out of the van.

           Tadashi felt his nerves begin to override the more hopeful side of his brain.

           What if it doesn’t work- we only tested it on three people- this could still hurt her- what if I hurt her?

           Tadashi began to tremble as doubts he thought he had laid to rest resurfaced in his mind. He reached over to grab Hiro’s sleeve and made no objections when Hiro picked him up to carry him. He tucked his face into the crook of his brother’s neck and didn’t look up until they entered room 214 and he was set down so he could stand next to the bed. Hiro lowered the bed to the point that Tadashi could rest his elbows easily on top of the mattress.

           “Hey, Aunt Cass.” Tadashi spoke in a hushed whisper, as if to someone sleeping. It was how he liked to picture it. Aunt Cass was sleeping, but now it was time to wake her up. Tadashi clasped one of her hands where it lay on top of the blanket and gently turned it so the inner wrist was facing up. “Hiro and I came to visit you again, just like we promised.”

           Hiro occupied himself with moving so that he blocked the view of Tadashi from the lone security camera in the room. He did his best to not actually look at it, but he still knew exactly what it covered from his own not-quite-legal hacking of its recordings so he could monitor his aunt’s condition from home. He couldn’t spend all his time at the hospital, though there were times when he wanted to.

           Tadashi looked up at Hiro, who nodded discretely at the unasked question, before reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the syringe. It was far too easy to pick out a vein because of how pale she had become. After uncapping the syringe, Tadashi mentally begged his hands not to shake, and, by some stroke of luck, he hit the vein on the first attempt. As steadily as he could, Tadashi injected the orange liquid at a rate slow enough to avoid overloading the vein.

           Withdrawing the needle from his aunt’s arm and slipping it back into his pocket, Tadashi watched the injection site quickly seal itself.

           Hiro shuffled over to the monitoring machines to check her brain activity and grinned as he saw it steadily rise out of its dreamless state. He turned to point it out to Tadashi, but paused when he noticed how closely Tadashi was watching her face, searching for any signs of wakefulness. He sighed quietly. Who knew how long it might take? Even if the physical aspects were fixed, there was the possibility that she might not want to wake up, or be aware that she could. Hiro didn’t expect as much out of this trip as Tadashi clearly did.

           Tadashi had his gaze fixed his aunt’s eyelids, searching for some telltale flicker or movement to show that it was working. Tadashi was determined that she was going to wake up.

           She just has to.

           “Aunt Cass... Please... please wake up...” Tadashi leaned forward and rested his chin on his arms, in a subconscious attempt to hide his quivering lower lip. Tears pricked the back of his eyes as he attempted to mentally compel her to open hers. “Please... just...”

           Tadashi trailed off and there was still no apparent change. He closed his eyes briefly, before opening them with a new look of determination. “I’m not giving up on you.”

           Maybe we can come back later, with another dose; maybe there was so much damage that one dose wouldn’t cover it; maybe if I just-

           Tadashi stilled, and his heart caught in his throat.

           Did she just—

            It was the slightest of movements, a small stirring of her head, but it was enough to make Tadashi freeze, as if his own movements might discourage hers. Her closed eyelids tightened, before relaxing. Her eyes opened, and she squinted at the bright lighting of the room. Tadashi struggled to remember how to breathe.

            “A-aunt Cass?”

            She turned toward the sound of Tadashi’s voice, looking confused for a moment, before she smiled tiredly and moved her hand across the mattress top to gently cup his face.

            “Hey, sweetie.” Her voice was rough from a year of non-use, and her hand was shaking with the effort it took to lift it.

            Tadashi brought his smaller hands up to support her arm as he bit his lip and tried to think of something to say. His mind was moving too quickly to process actual words, and the state of shock he was in left his tongue tied in knots. He screwed his eyes shut against the increasing warmth and tightness manifesting behind them.

           Now is not the time for tears; it would only freak her out more than she is about to be.

           His shoulders started shaking as she gently ran a thumb along his cheek in a soothing motion that used to be so familiar that he hadn’t even realized he had missed it. He slipped his hand into hers and removed her hand from his face, holding it between his own.

           What is going on in her mind?

           “Did you come here on your own, Tadashi? Your parents must be worried.”

           Tadashi’s eyes widened, and he shook his head.

           So she thinks...

           “Hiro’s here, too.”

           Hiro had placed himself at the foot of the bed, having had to restrain himself from running over the instant she woke up. Things were complicated enough; it was best to take things one step at a time. At Tadashi’s mention he moved around to them and crouched down by the side of the bed so that she wouldn’t have to turn her head.

           “Hey, Aunt Cass...”

           Her eyebrows drew together in confusion, before rising in realization, and then lowering in worry.

           “Hiro? But...” She tightened her grip on Tadashi’s hands, though even then it wasn’t a very firm one, and spoke to Hiro. “C-can you see him? Is he here?”

            “Yeah, don’t worry, Aunt Cass.” Hiro placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Tadashi is here.”

            “But - “ She looked between the two siblings, but was interrupted when her attendant bustled into the room, along with a doctor and a handful of other nurses. Word had gotten out that their patient had awoken.


 

            In the chaos that surrounded working out the details of Aunt Cass’s continued care, the boys were almost pushed from the room, and Tadashi would forever deny having used his puppy-dog pout to get them permission to stay.

           The physicians wereamazed at her ability to move on her own at all, as well as the control she already had over her speech. When they had finally finished checking the various machines and conferring between themselves, they began the process of transferring Cass to a room more suitable for recovery.

           During this process, one of the doctors approached Hiro and asked if it would be appropriate to assign Hiro’s care-bot to his aunt, since it did not currently have a primary patient. Hiro nodded, but cringed at the look Tadashi sent him while the doctor’s back was turned. Hiro added it to the mental list of things he had failed or forgotten to tell his brother. He was certainly going to get an earful later, especially since it would tie quite nicely into the topic of his modifications of Baymax, which Tadashi hadn’t had the chance to address fully.

           As the physicians were busy moving their aunt, the boys ventured into the hallway. There was a vending machine standing proudly a short distance from them. Hiro found the grin that came over Tadashi’s face a bit unsettling.

           He pushed over a chair and punched in a request, before asking for and swiping Hiro’s card as payment. Pushing through the plastic flap, Tadashi pulled out a package of gummy bears, the last one that had been in the machine. Opening the bag, he ate one before looking up at Hiro as if in an afterthought.

           “Oh, did you want some?” The grin on his face took on an almost evil aura.

           Hiro crossed his arms and assumed the most aloof facial expression he could muster. “I am a mature adult. I no longer give into my addictions.”

           Tadashi shrugged, not believing him for a second, but willing to play along. “Okay.” He began to consume them at a faster pace.

           Hiro’s face twitched. “...but I need to teach you the value of sharing. Gimme some.”

           He reached out a hand to either receive a proper offering or snatch them should Tadashi refuse. Tadashi simply laughed and moved out of reach.

           “But I thought you didn’t want any.” The small bag was almost empty at this point.

           “Sharing is caring.” Hiro made a last attempt to get the bag, but just when he had a hold of it, Tadashi shocked him into letting go when he licked his hand.

           “Augh! Tadashi!” The five year old laughed at the disgusted look on Hiro’s face as he wiped his hand clean on his jeans. “Really?”

           “What?” Tadashi gave a fake innocent look that Hiro didn’t buy for a microsecond. “Sharing is caring! I’m sharing my germs!”

           Tadashi crumpled up the empty bag before offering up the last red gummy bear to his brother. Hiro debated refusing it on principle, but accepted it anyway.

           He didn’t have a problem...


            Once Cass was settled in her new room, and the hospital personnel had finally filed out, the brothers brought up chairs to their aunt’s bedside.

           “Now that that excitement is over, do you boys mind filling me in on what you’ve been up to? And maybe explaining all...” she gestured to Tadashi “...this?”

           The brothers exchanged looks, trying to determine who should speak first, what they shouldn’t tell her, and how much to tell her about Tadashi’s state of being.

           “That bad, huh?” Aunt Cass smiled wearily, the events of the afternoon having depleted her limited reserves of energy. The brothers would have to keep it brief for this visit.

           “It-it’s complicated.” Tadashi ran a hand across the back of his neck. How does one break the news to their aunt that he wasn’t exactly... human?

           Though she did take my existence pretty well...

           Cass laughed softly. “I don’t have anywhere to be. Take your time.”

           Tadashi glanced at Hiro, who so helpfully shrugged.

           “I...” Tadashi hesitated. After explaining his situation so often, it should have gotten easier, not harder. “A-after the fire... or during it... I... reset. Long story short, it took five years for my old memories to resurface, and I found Hiro again... a little under a week ago.”

           Tadashi paused. Has it really not even been a week, yet?

           Hiro rolled his eyes at the minimal explanation his brother had given, and when it seemed like he was lost in thought, Hiro decided to explain the more colorful aspects of his return.

           In a hushed voice, Hiro detailed the strange physical aspects he had originally noticed about his suddenly younger brother, and Baymax’s diagnosis. He left out the healing tears; they could talk about that when a passing orderly wouldn’t overhear them.

           “I thought he felt a little warm.” Cass reached out and placed a shaking hand on Tadashi’s forehead, checking his temperature.

           Hiro laughed at the understatement. “Yeah, apparently his DNA is all messed up. He’s still himself, but... more.” He shrugged. “There’s not been any negative effects so far – “ Tadashi glared at his brother. “ - well, not for him, anyway. We’re working on it...”

           Aunt Cass sighed and leaned back against the pillows with a wry smile. “So, they were right.”

           Tadashi froze.

           ...what?

           A quick glance at his brother let him know that he was equally confused.

           “W-what do you mean?”

           Their aunt smiled softly. “Did I ever tell you how your parents met?”

           Tadashi nodded. “They worked together...” but what does that...

           She nodded. “Your mother was a scientist in the biological department at Krei Tech, while your father was an intern who agreed to participate in her research as a test subject.”

           Where is this going?

           “Their goal was positive human improvement, though your father was quite the sci-fi fan.” She laughed at the memory. “My brother was nearly obsessive with it when he was younger, and he never quite grew out of it. He had quite a few suggestions for her research. I think his enthusiasm was part of what initially brought them together...”

           She sighed, sadness filling her expression before she slightly shook her head and smiled again. “However, my brother constantly complained that nothing seemed to come of the experiments. Anything they added just... disappeared. He figured the original DNA just rewrote itself. The experiments came to an end, though the theoretical research continued. They married, had you - “ she bopped Tadashi lightly on the nose “ - and eventually moved on to other projects, ones that were more... useful. And realistic. They left Krei Tech, and your father decided he would be a doctor.”

           Tadashi smiled softly, though his mind was racing. He had a million questions and another million theories, but he could wait until his aunt had finished talking.

           Interrupting is rude.

           “Whenever I watched you as a child, they asked me to keep an eye out for anything strange, just in case, but as the years passed, and Hiro was born, it seemed that nothing would come from it. You were a perfectly normal, if adventurous and dangerously brave, child.” Her smile slipped from her face.

           “A couple of years after Hiro was born, they found out someone had gotten their hands on their research shortly after they had left, and was continuing it... with fewer reserves than your parents had had.” Anger and sadness twisted her face. “Their primary subject had become pregnant, but they continued anyway, and whatever they did was likely what killed her. Your parents, especially your mother, objected strongly, but waivers had been signed all around, and her research was property of Krei Tech.”

           Tadashi felt sick to his stomach. This was...

           “No laws had been broken, and before your mother could pursue anything further...” Cass bit her lip, and her eyes became glassy. “...there was the accident.”

           Tadashi suddenly became very interested in how his hands rested on the mattress as he blinked away the feeling of tears.

            “When I took you two in, any thought of what you might be was about as far from my mind as it could be. Over the years, I completely forgot.” She laughed humorlessly. “You two were quite a handful.” Her smile was genuine.

            Tadashi felt Hiro’s arm wrap around his shoulders, and he looked up at him with a small smile.

            “Well, at least we know you weren’t abducted at some point, or anything.”

            Tadashi rolled his eyes at Hiro’s lame attempt at a joke, though his smile grew a little.

           Their aunt settled more firmly on her pillows and seemed to be close to sleep, so the brothers said their goodbyes and got their multiple hugs before leaving with the promise to return when she was more awake.

Chapter Text

 

            If this girl changes her order one more time, I am giving her a cup of water and whipped cream.

            Kyouji glanced down at the small notebook with multiple strikethroughs and items written in the margin. The single order filled the entire page and it was only one cup of coffee.

            …and now I have to read this back to her…

            “Okay… you want an iced, half caff… venti, 2-pump, two shot, sugar free… cinnamon, soy latte.” Kyouji tried to avoid wincing from where his tongue pulled at the injury from the previous night as he spoke, but he wasn’t certain he concealed it. Not that it would matter. She hadn’t even looked up since she reached the front of the line. Thankfully there was no one waiting behind her.

            She has been ordering for the past five minutes. Please let this be what she wants.

            “I-I think so.” She twisted two strands of hair between her fingers and kept her gaze fixed on the counter.

            “Well, here’s your number. Your order will be ready-“ whenever I figure out how to decipher it “-soon.”

            She nodded and accepted her number, not even looking all the way up at him to do so, before making her way to one of the tables.

            ...I’m choosing not to be offended at that.

            Kyouji looked down at the notebook with a slight sigh.

            Coffee should not be this complicated. He wasn’t even sure where to start. Maybe Wasabi knows.

            Making his way to the back room, Kyouji spotted Wasabi at the sink, washing dishes that he was pretty sure had been clean before he started. The work dynamic with Wasabi was markedly different from when Hiro was there. Hiro was constantly moving about, talking with the customers and manning the tables. Wasabi rarely came out from behind the counter, and was content to hide in the back room and wash dishes while Kyouji dealt with the handful of customers that had trickled in over the course of the afternoon.

            He paused in the doorway.

            How do you ask people for help, again? Kyouji hesitated, before turning to go back to the shop. I’ll figure it out, myse-

            “Need something?” Wasabi looked up as he toweled his hands dry.

            “Um,” Kyouji indicated to his notepad. “Just a weird order I’m not sure how to make. I-I can figure it out.”

            “Nah, man. That’s what I’m here for.” Wasabi put down the towel and followed him back to the machines. When Kyouji showed him the notebook he chuckled.

            “Let me guess, the person who ordered this was a girl with long brown hair and she didn’t look up at all.” Wasabi took the notebook, smirking at Kyouji’s momentary look of disbelief.

            “I’m guessing you’ve dealt with her before.” Kyouji handed him a cup and watched carefully as he began to fill the order, keeping it in mind for future reference.

            “Oh, yeah.” As the machine started up, Wasabi took the cinnamon shaker from the shelf. “Though Hiro usually takes her order and suggests something less complicated, which also helps with the indecisiveness.”

            “Hm.” That would have been nice to know.

            The door to the café opened with a jingle, and Honey Lemon walked into the café, a bright red and yellow bag slung over her shoulder.

            “Hi, guys!” She bounded up to the counter, grinning widely. “I finally got everything unpacked. I found so many things I’ve lost over the years.” She gestured to her bag. “See? I even found my favorite bag.”

            Wasabi leaned against the counter. “So, you’ve got your lab all set up, now?”

            Honey Lemon laughed. “That was the first thing finished. Priorities, right?”

            She has a lab? The thought put Kyouji on edge, and he looked away towards the machine as it poured dark liquid into the cup beneath it. He wasn’t even certain if he was supposed to be a part of the conversation or not.

            “It’s just so nice that I don’t have to try to fit everything into that tiny purse I had lying around.” Honey Lemon smiled while adjusting the strap to the bag she had over her shoulder. “Though, I suppose I could have just picked up a new one when I took Tad-Teddy shopping. Heh, I’m still not used to that name. I just didn’t think about it, since I was more worried about replacing my camera.”

            Haha, yeah… about that…

            Kyouji looked over at her, trying to gauge her reaction, but Wasabi took Kyouji’s glance as a question. “On her way here from England, her bag got stolen at the airport. She never did get it back, but we weren’t really expecting her to.”

            How do people normally react to this?

            Kyouji’s gut reaction widened his eyes, so shock it was. “A-are you okay?”

            That sounded sincere… not.

            Luckily she bought it, and smiled brightly at him.

            “I’m completely fine, everything important was kept close, and I wasn’t hurt, so it could have been much worse.” Honey Lemon looked down, flushing slightly. “Thanks for asking.”

            Uh… I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to say ‘you’re welcome’ here.

            Kyouji nodded, pushing his bangs back off of his face before turning his attention to the coffee machine as it announced that the coffee was finished. Wasabi and Honey Lemon continued their conversation as Kyouji finished up the order and called the number. He tuned them out as the girl collected her drink and left without a word. He drummed his fingers against the counter before turning back to them, having decided that he couldn’t be completely antisocial.

            Honey Lemon finally noticed the distinct lack of robotics nerds. “So, where’s Hiro? Is Teddy with him?”

            Wasabi’s smile faltered a bit, and he spoke in a serious tone. “They went to the hospital to see Cass. They left…” Wasabi glanced at the clock on the wall. “…two hours and forty-five minutes ago… forty-six minutes.” Nodding, he turned back to Honey Lemon.

            Why doesn’t he just say three hours ago?

            “Already?” Honey Lemon looked concerned, though Kyouji was at a loss as to why.

            “Yeah, Teddy practically dragged his brother out the door when I got here, but Hiro seemed just as eager to go. I wonder what’s taking them so long.”

            Wait, brother? Aren’t they a little… I don’t know, too far apart age-wise?

            “Hmm.” Honey Lemon bit her thumb as she glanced at the door. “Do you think they’ll be back by closing time?”

            There were only fifteen minutes before six, and Wasabi and Kyouji had already started to put things away since the café was completely empty after the girl had left.

            Wasabi shook his head. “It’s not likely, but I can stay behind if it’s necessary. I’ve got a couple of textbooks in my bag that I can look over while I wait.”

            Fifteen minutes passed with no sign of the boys or any other customers. Every now and then as they were cleaning up, Kyouji would catch flashes of light out of the corner of his eye from where he guessed a light was reflecting off of Honey Lemon’s phone, since she had it out as she chatted away.

            Clouds had covered the sky, and the sun was low enough that it no longer gave light to the street, bringing an early night. As Kyouji looked out the window, he saw people as moving pillars of red and orange light until they walked under a street lamp and their features became apparent. It was entertaining to watch people switch back and forth, but he stilled when he saw two figures step out of a vehicle.

            The vehicle was too dark to make out, but the smaller figure didn’t glow like others did. It shone bright yellow, with flickers of white at its core. Kyouji blinked a couple of times, wondering if it was a fluke, but it didn’t change until the two got close enough to the café for the light to reveal the features of the kid.

            What on earth? That’s Tadashi, er… Teddy. …there’s something wrong with that kid.

            Kyouji couldn’t comment on it, but he was a little concerned. He was pretty sure that no one healthy could maintain that temperature. Which made him wonder…

            The brothers entered the café, and Teddy was practically bouncing up and down with excitement while the Hiro looked on with a fond smile. He looked like the weight of the world had been lifted off of his shoulders.

            Brothers. I can see it. …He doesn’t look sick.

            “Guys! Guys! She’s awake! It worked!” Teddy ran up to the counter and looked like he was shaking in excitement, bouncing on the tips of his feet as if he were about to take flight. “I mean, she won’t get to come home for a while, but she’s awake and she’s talking!”

            The kid’s face looked like it might split from the wide grin that stretched across it. Honey Lemon and Wasabi were expressing their happiness as a hundred questions flashed through Kyouji’s mind. There were two that took prominence.

            What worked?

            and

            Is something burning?

            He was pretty sure they had turned the ovens off, and they hadn’t actually used them too much that day. No one else seemed to notice.

            “Uh, is it just me, or does it smell like something’s burning?” Kyouji moved as if to go to the ovens, but the scent faded quickly until he returned to where the others were.

            Hiro’s face did a strange contortion where it went from near panic as he set his hand on Tadashi’s shoulder, before quickly removing it with a look of realization that quickly morphed into fear again, though he was clearly trying to mask it.

            “Hey, Teddy. How about you and Honey Lemon go upstairs and get a movie started? I’m sure one of the machines is just overheating a bit.”

            “O-kay?” The kid looked up at his brother with confusion evident on his face before he shrugged and started up the stairs.

            Honey looked at Hiro as if she wanted to ask something, before glancing at Kyouji with a small smile that looked almost guilty. “Sorry. I guess I’ll be seeing you around, Kyouji.” She then turned and followed after Teddy.

            …why is she apologizing?

           In the meantime, Hiro was doing a superficial check over the machines as Kyouji and Wasabi finished the other requirements of closing the café. Kyouji waved goodbye and made his way out the door, knowing there was no way for his questions to be answered without appearing suspicious.

            Glancing up at the cloudy sky, he mentally ran through the list of the closest safe houses, since he’d rather not be soaked if it started to rain. Turning left, he decided on one that was least likely to be populated, even if it was a little further than he’d prefer to walk at that point.

            Kyouji made his way down the street, fiddling with the syringes he still kept in his pocket, wary of the possible assailants that could be lurking in the shadows.

            “Oi, Jadoku!”

            Kyouji glanced back and spotted Himitsu shutting a door behind him. He walked up to Kyouji’s side, a black umbrella hanging from one of his wrists, and both hands tucked in his pockets. Kyouji tried to keep himself from grimacing.

            Would it be too much to ask for one day without this? …it wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t always trying to convince me of something I already know. I don’t need any reminders.

            “Himitsu.” Kyouji continued on his way, not glancing back to see if he was following. He heard footsteps, and he rolled his eyes, before mentally berating himself for doing so. It wasn’t like Himitsu was lying to him, if anything he was trying to help… in a selfish and backhanded way. “Is this going to become a daily thing?”

            “’Ey, this was just a happy accident. But, in a manner o’ speaking, yeah. I gotta keep an eye on my investment.”        

            “Hm.” Kyouji wondered at the wording of that… it wasn’t that much that he owed him, why was it such a big deal? Although… Himitsu loved secrets and being in the know. He was probably more interested in the information than the money at this point.

            “So… got anything to share?”

            Called it.

            “Well, Hiro and Ted-uh… Tadashi are officially brothers.” Kyouji stumbled on the name, having finally gotten used to mentally referring to him as Teddy.

            Kyouji and Teddy. Jadoku and Tadashi. Yeah, I can remember that.

            Himitsu merely laughed at the slip up.

            “Anyway, their aunt woke up or whatever, but apparently, she can’t leave the hospital anytime soon, so I’ve still got time.”

            Himitsu raised an eyebrow at him. “What’s that gotta do with anything?”

            Kyouji just shook his head at the question.

            When she comes back, they won’t need me anymore, so why would they keep me around?

            Instead of saying this, he switched the topic to something else that had been bothering him.

            “In order for this to work, I’m going to have to make it so that the injection does more than just momentarily paralyze. I’d just up the concentration a little, but he’s a kid, and I’ve never used it on a kid. I don’t want to overdo it, since clearly we don’t want him dead.”

            Himitsu didn’t look that concerned. “You’ll figure it out.”

            Really helpful… though what did I expect him to do about it?

            “There’s another potential issue.” Himitsu looked at Kyouji, waiting for him to continue. Kyouji hesitated as he realized it would reveal another of his abilities, but at least this one was almost acceptable. He’d also already started speaking, and he couldn’t just make something up. “When it’s dark, I can see people by their body temperatures, and his is ridiculously high. I’m not talking about fever high either, though that’s what I thought at first. It’s almost like he’s… burning.”

            A thoughtful look came over Himitsu’s face, but after putting it like that Kyouji was reminded of the odd and inexplicable burning scent he had noticed at the café. He wouldn’t mention it, but it was something to consider.

            “Hm.” Himitsu’s reaction, or rather lack of one, wasn’t too surprising to Kyouji, considering what he had put up with so far. He was probably filing the information somewhere away in his mind to use at an inconvenient time. Well… inconvenient for Kyouji.

            Kyouji glanced up when he felt a couple of water droplets hit his face.

            Just perfect.

            He was still a couple of blocks from his destination, and he had no hopes for the heavier rain to hold out until he got there. He picked up the pace, and startled a little when he heard the dull thump of an umbrella opening behind him. He looked over at Himitsu warily when the shadow of the umbrella covered him, but was surprised to find that he wasn’t walking any closer than he had been earlier. Himitsu shrugged.

            “It’s a big umbrella, I didn’t figure you’d object.”

            Kyouji debated the merits of going on ahead, but the torrent of rain that unleashed itself in a matter of seconds after the drizzle began made up his mind for him. At least Himitsu wasn’t lecturing him about avoiding attachments; he might just have to steal the umbrella and run if he did.

Chapter Text

                After Wasabi wished him goodnight, Hiro made his way up the stairs in time to see Tadashi shrugging off his jacket with a wince. His back was to him, so Hiro had a clear view of the black mark on his shirt that spread from the center of his back out towards his shoulder blades. Tadashi tossed the jacket onto the floor and relaxed a bit, pulling on the back of his shirt so that it didn’t press against his skin. Hiro frowned at the obvious discomfort, and was about to make his way to their shared room when Honey Lemon came down the stairs with Baymax following after her at its slow pace.

                Hiro was thankful that his friends were bright enough to do what he wanted them to do, not what he told them to do. He turned his attention back to Tadashi.

                “You okay, buddy?” As Hiro drew near, the scent of burned cloth became stronger, and the momentary panic that he had experienced down in the café flared for a moment before he managed to tamp it down. He’d been surprised at the heat that Tadashi had been giving off when he had put his hand on his shoulder earlier, so as he repeated the action, he did so slowly, and with a lighter grip.

                Tadashi nodded, looking up at his brother with an apologetic smile. “I’m okay. My shirt was just sticking to my back in a weird way.” He shifted, pulling on the hem of the ruined shirt, unaware of the damage.

                “Well, I hope you weren’t too attached to it.” Hiro grinned at Honey Lemon as she handed him an old shirt of his to give to Tadashi to replace the one he was wearing. Honey Lemon squinted at him, with a small smile of her own.

                “Was that a pun?” She asked as she pulled out her phone and began to scroll through whatever was on the screen.

                Hiro simply laughed.

                Tadashi struggled into the new shirt, which was too big for him, but didn’t press uncomfortably against his back. He startled slightly when Hiro moved him by the shoulders to stand directly in front of Baymax.

                “Baymax, scan him.”

                The determined look in Hiro’s eyes concerned Tadashi. “Hiro, I said I’m fi-“

                “Scan complete. Hiro, please exhibit caution, prolonged exposure to high temperatures could lead to burns.”

                Tadashi’s quiet “What?” was ignored as Hiro tightened his grip on his brother’s shoulders. He could feel the temperature difference, but it wasn’t painful, just surprising.

                “Report, Baymax.” He’d have to fix the coding for Baymax’s warnings if they were going to interrupt patient observation for something trivial.

                “Tadashi is in perfect health, though his internal temperature has increased significantly from his last scan. Updating patient files now.”

                Hiro nodded, satisfied that his brother was okay, but Tadashi pulled away from his grip, drawing closer to Baymax with a worried expression on his face.

                “Increased to what, Baymax?” Tadashi drew his arms in closer to himself, holding the t-shirt he had previously been wearing close, and hunched his back slightly.

                Hiro recognized the body language Tadashi was displaying; he had done something similar after he had inadvertently burned Callaghan.

                “Scans indicate that your internal temperature has settled at 300.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 149 degrees Celsius. However, you are expressing different temperatures across your body.” Baymax pulled up a screen on his stomach, and highlighted the image’s back, hands, and face. “Your hands and face are 104 degrees Fahrenheit, but your back is steadily decreasing in temperature.”

                Beside the image, a small reading popped up, showing that the temperature had rapidly decreased from the 330°F it had been when he first scanned him to the 140°F it was at the moment, and it was still dropping.

                Tadashi clenched the shirt in his hands tightly in growing terror, and Hiro wasn’t sure how to comfort him. He and Honey Lemon exchanged a look, but she appeared as uncertain as Hiro felt.

                “D-does that mean it can get worse?” Tadashi moved away from the others, frightened of the possibility of injuring his brother and one of his closest friends. Hiro was moving to approach him, when he looked closer at the shirt in his hands. He ran his thumb over the scorched fabric, and watched as it darkened under his touch. He dropped it to the floor. “I-I can stay outside. Concrete doesn’t burn, and-“

                “No.” Hiro wasn’t about to let his brother kick himself out of the house, especially not when something could be done about the issue. A quick glance outside confirmed that there was no way he was going to let Tadashi spend the night out there. Rain was coming down in sheets; nothing was spared from the deluge. He willed his mind to think quickly and he knelt down until he was eye level with his brother. “Hey… I’ll figure something out. Maybe something you could wear under your clothes…”

                His brain was jumping around, discarding and building on ideas until he thought he had something that could work. Since the issue was with the heat he was giving off, and not Tadashi’s health deteriorating because of the rise in temperature, then maybe he could do something about it through containment.

                The entire thought process took a couple of seconds at most, but Hiro had been crouching there long enough for Tadashi to start shaking, even as Honey Lemon assured him that things would be okay.

                “Honey Lemon, do you think you could help me put something together?” Hiro’s idea could work, but his previous sewing projects had ended abysmally, regardless of the multiple attempts of others to try and teach him. Fabric stretched in ways that carbon fiber did not, and cutting it accurately was a skill he hadn’t quite mastered. Honey Lemon’s interest in fashion design had prompted a quick study of the combinations of materials and fabric when the topic of costumes had come up five years before. It was thanks to this knowledge and Wasabi’s meticulous measurements that the armor had fit the team members at all, and didn’t look like it was designed by a five-year-old.

…No offense, Tadashi.


 

                Hiro dug around in the garage, pushing past spare parts and unfinished projects while hoping to find what he was searching for.

                Please don’t have thrown it out. This is why I keep everything. It’s got to be here somewhere.

                Hiro heard Honey Lemon on the other side of the garage as she sorted through things he had already pawed through.

                Well, two eyes are better than one. It’s possible that I missed something. …unlikely, but—aha!

                “Found it!” Hiro dragged the roll of mesh, which stood as tall as his shoulder, to the center of the garage and let it fall with a loud thud to the floor. He didn’t remember it being that heavy.

                “Perfect!” Honey Lemon made her way over, clasping her hands together in excitement momentarily before she began to unravel the material across the space they had cleared. “Okay, this should be plenty. Come over here, Teddy. Do you think this will do for now?”

                Tadashi had curled up against Baymax, after it had been determined that the vinyl wouldn’t be damaged by his current temperature, and was barely keeping his drooping eyes open. He blearily made his way over to the silver mesh that was spread out across the floor. He laid his hand against it as Honey Lemon explained that they had originally intended for it to be a part of Fred’s suit, as a protection against the flames the costume spewed from the front. The thin fabric had been deemed too flimsy, and an alternative was developed, but Hiro, forever a packrat, had kept it in case they had need of it later.

                Tadashi ran his fingers over the woven cloth, noting that it was tightly knit, though it was ridged like square scales. The material was much softer than he had expected it to be.

                “This stuff can take up to 2300°F, with short excursions to 3000°F.” Hiro crossed his arms, smirking down at his brother. “I tested it with a blowtorch when we first got it. The other side didn’t even feel warm.”

                Tadashi furrowed his eyebrows. “So… you’re telling me that you superheated a piece of cloth and then touched it?

                Hiro winced as Tadashi glared up at him. That had definitely been on the list of things not to tell Tadashi. “Hehe, um… yeah?” Hiro ran a hand through the side of his hair. “For science?”

                Tadashi crossed his arms as Honey Lemon hid a giggle behind her hand at the sight of an adult being reprimanded by a five-year-old. She snapped a quick photo of the scene before turning to Baymax to get the rough measurements needed to cut the cloth so that the end product would fit Tadashi. After drawing a quick outline on the fabric in chalk, she passed some scissors to Hiro, insisting that he would get better at it if he practiced.

                As Hiro grumbled and cut as cleanly as he could, Honey Lemon settled down next to Tadashi, who had curled up so that his chin rested on his knees and his arms were wrapped around his legs. She ran a hand through his hair in comfort, wishing she could just scoop him up into a hug, but knowing that it would only make it worse on the off-chance that he accidentally burned her. He offered a small smile to her, and she remembered a way to hopefully brighten the mood.

                Hiro was deep in concentration when Honey Lemon’s voice brought him back to the present.

                “So, your Aunt Cass woke up. That’s pretty exciting!”

                Hiro glanced up from what he was cutting in time to see a wide grin take over Tadashi’s previously somber expression. He smiled softly to himself, mentally thanking Honey Lemon for reminding Tadashi of the good he could do, even while they worked on minimizing the bad.

                Turning back to his project, he listened to Tadashi describe what they’d done, and how they’d had to hide because of how illegal their actions probably were. Hiro tensed at this, not hearing the continuation of the conversation as his mind reminded him of exactly why he’d wanted to keep Tadashi a secret.

                It was likely that there was no end to the tears’ ability to heal, and if a government or corporation found out about it… the word ‘harvesting’ flashed through Hiro’s mind. His grip on the scissors tightened as his mind helpfully supplied images of someone hurting his brother to get what they wanted. He didn’t care if it would be ‘for the greater good.’ It had been bad enough when Tadashi had cried to ultimately heal their aunt, but the thought of someone forcing him to made Hiro’s blood boil.

                Never. Hiro found a new satisfaction as the scissors sliced their way through the fabric. No one will ever hurt him.


 

                The three of them made short work of stitching the pieces together. Admittedly, Tadashi was unable to thread the needle without help, and his stiches were wide and uneven in places, but it did the job, and it was only a prototype to last until they could make something more permanent. It wasn’t like Hiro’s work was much better.

                While Tadashi was changing in the bathroom, Hiro and Honey Lemon lingered outside in the main area. Honey Lemon was scrolling through her phone, smiling every now and then. The growing curiosity was killing Hiro.

                “Okay, what are you smiling at?” Hiro peeked at the screen before she could even think to stop him, and stilled for a moment before snatching the phone and scrolling through the particular photo set she had been viewing. “Are you kidding me?”

                How many of these did she take? When the files kept going, Hiro couldn’t helpdissolving briefly into helpless and exasperated laughter as he passed back her phone. “I’m new to this, but I’m pretty sure taking pictures of an employee without their permission counts as harassment. This is a lot, even for someone like you, who takes pictures of everything.” He grinned up at her, a teasing glint in his eyes.

                Honey Lemon shrugged unashamedly. “What can I say? He’s pretty.”

                Hiro rolled his eyes, before running a hand over his face. “…unbelievable.”

                “So, how did Fred react to Teddy’s powers working on your aunt?” Honey Lemon slipped her phone into her bag, giving Hiro her full attention.

                Hiro froze. “Uh, I actually haven’t told anyone other than you and Wasabi, since you guys were here when we got back…” Hiro nervously rubbed the back of his neck. “In fact, I kinda forgot about telling anyone when Tadashi burned through the back of his shirt.”

                Honey Lemon raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You need to tell them, though maybe first thing in the morning would be better…” Her watch proudly displayed the time, 11:52.

                “I will-“ Hiro was cut off as the bathroom door opened.

                “This feels weird.” Tadashi was pulling on the mittens that Honey Lemon had thrown together at the last minute, and Hiro tried to suppress a laugh at how ridiculous his brother looked. He failed, and Tadashi glared up at him.

                “Can you really blame me? You look like you’re wearing a tin-foil onesie, except it’s cloth instead of metal.” Hiro turned to Honey Lemon, making sure she was getting plenty of photo evidence.

                The fabric covered everything from Tadashi’s neck down, though the mittens could be removed, and everything else could be covered by regular clothes as long as he wore long-sleeves.

                Honey Lemon wished them good night when it became clear that things were under control for the moment, and headed out into the night, grateful that the rain had stopped.

                Back in their shared room, the brothers were getting ready for bed, but Hiro would catch Tadashi wincing and fidgeting every now and then.

                “Dashi?” Hiro decided he could no longer ignore it when his brother hissed in pain when he reached up to pull himself onto his bed.

                “I’m okay, I can ignore it.” Tadashi shook his head, before pulling himself the rest of the way up.

                Hiro approached his brother, concern written on his face. “No, we aren’t going to play that game. What’s wrong?”

                “I-it feels like there are two lines cut on my back whenever the shirt presses against it… or touches it.”

                Hiro gently pulled the material away from his back, using the collar of the shirt to hold it away. He spotted the issue right away. The twin charcoal stripes between Tadashi’s shoulder blades had begun to glow.

                “Is this better?” Hiro asked. Tadashi nodded in response. “Well, we’ve got an issue then. These marks are probably what burned your shirt, but keeping them covered is hurting you. We can cut slits in the material for now, to relieve the pressure, but we’ll eventually need something to contain it that won’t hurt you.”

                “But what do we do for right now?” Tadashi looked back at his brother, frowning at the new problem that had presented itself.

                Hiro was momentarily at a loss, before another idea came to mind. Moving quickly, Hiro brought swaths of fabric from the roll in the garage up to the room, and covered Tadashi’s bed in them.

                “It won’t be super comfortable, but I think it’s our best option for now. We’ll work on comfort when we’ve got access to better supplies, and when it’s not some ridiculous time of night.”

                “Okay.” Tadashi yawned as Hiro carefully cut slits into the back of the shirt, allowing the relatively cool air of the room to ease the pinching heat of the marks.

                “’Night, Dashi.” Hiro hugged him, and he momentarily tensed, only relaxing once he realized Hiro was uninjured. Hiro ruffled his hair before making his way over to his computer station.

                “’Night, Hiro.” He curled up on top of the fabric, pulling one of the pieces over him to substitute as a blanket.

                Once he was certain his brother was comfortable, Hiro turned his attention to the monitor in front of him. If he was going to help with Tadashi’s new development, he had better get started.

 

Chapter Text

                  Hiro blearily fumbled for his phone, determined to stop the dub-step-esque sounds that it screeched out into the room before it woke the entire neighborhood. After finally pressing the puzzle pieces in the right order (what idiot decided that putting a puzzle lock on an alarm was a good idea?), Hiro slumped back against the mattress with a groan.

                  Note to self: two hours of sleep no longer cuts it.

                  He couldn’t bring himself to regret staying up as late as he had, though he wished he could laze around in bed a bit longer. He glanced over at the materials strewn haphazardly across his workspace and mentally berated his past self for being lazy and not taking them back to the garage before falling into bed. At least now he had a couple of possible solutions for whatever was going on with Tadashi.

                  Yawning widely, Hiro checked his phone again. He still had an hour to get ready, and he struggled with motivating himself to get out of bed. A glimpse through the divider told him that Tadashi hadn’t so much as stirred from the blaring noise, and was still curled up on his side, oblivious to the world around him. Hiro sighed as he rolled onto his back, holding the phone above his face and watching the minute counter on the digital clock slowly change digits. The smaller print below the time told him that it was Friday, November 19th.

                  But November just started... and now Thanksgiving’s in less than a week... at least it’s Friday. Day off tomorrow... yay...

                  Hiro didn’t even have the energy to be mentally excited, and ran through the checklist in his head of things he still needed to tell people, ask people, do for people... In addition to everything involving Tadashi (which he was not stressed out about, not one little bit), the holidays were coming up, faster than he would like. Even without all of the recent insanity, trying to plan anything with everyone’s busy schedules was like herding cats.

                  Hiro heard light scratching near the foot of his bed, and dropped his phone on his face in surprise. Wincing, he sat up and glared at Mochi as he stopped scratching and began to purr and rub along the wooden bedframe, asking Hiro for attention.

                  Think of the devil and he shall appear.

                  Hiro dragged himself out of bed and scooped Mochi up into his arms, before making his way over to the food bowl. He set the old cat down and opened a can of vile smelling slop that he still couldn’t believe the cat actually liked. Once the cat food had been successfully transferred to the bowl, a task the sleep-deprived Hamada mentally congratulated himself for, Hiro began to prepare for the day.

                  When he came back upstairs after his shower, Hiro noticed that the scratchy feeling in the back of his throat hadn’t gone away. He had chalked it up to having possibly slept with his mouth open, but it should have faded in the time he had been awake.

                  Maybe allergies are making a comeback. Why is it so cold in here?

                  Hiro shivered and checked the windows to make sure they weren’t letting in any drafts, but found that they were all closed and latched, like they always were. Sighing, he activated Baymax, deciding that if Tadashi could sleep through the clamorous noise that barely passed as music from his phone, then Baymax wouldn’t wake him up.

                  “Good morning, Hiro. What seems to be the trouble?”

                  “I dunno, probably nothing, but could you do a quick scan to make sure I don’t have anything contagious?” Hiro didn’t mind working while under the weather; some of his more... interesting ideas came from working while he wasn’t feeling well. However, he didn’t want to get anyone else sick if he could avoid it.

                  “Scan complete, no contagious diseases detected. However-“

                  “Yeah, yeah. I know I’m sleep-deprived. I’m aware I need to drink more fluids. I should probably eat healthier. I need to get out the winter bedding, and I should probably buy a space heater. Happy?”

                  Hiro was making his way over to his desk, trying to determine how much he could clean up before he was needed downstairs, when he heard Baymax make an odd noise behind him.

                  “...Did you just sigh at me?” Hiro glanced incredulously over his shoulder at the airbag with legs, wondering if he had simply imagined things.

                  “I am a robot. I do not breathe.”

                  Hiro stared at it for a moment, struggling to find words, before clearing his throat to relieve the itchiness. It didn’t help.

                  “Whatever, buddy.” Hiro shoved a handful of tools into a cloth bag, clearing at least a little space on his desk. He made his way over to Baymax, satisfied with the cleaning job for the moment. “Can you pull up the patient file for Tadashi? Do a quick scan of him, while you’re at it.”

                  Hiro looked over it, pulling up the temperature chart from the night before and another from a previous scan. The temperatures were high in both, but it was only the more recent one that had specific concentrations of heat. When Baymax finished the scan, Hiro placed the newest chart alongside the other two. Tadashi was warmer than in the earliest scan, but there wasn’t a significant difference in temperature between his shoulder blades anymore. Hiro shrugged and stretched his arms out above his head. Things seemed to be under control for the moment, and he had a possible back-up if it got bad again.

                  The previous night Hiro had designed a patch that could cover the marks, while still channeling the temperature to prevent a build-up of heat. It was something of a gel-covered fabric coolant that could be attached easily, but wouldn’t pull at the skin when removed.

                  Hiro sighed as he pushed a hand through his hair. If he was wrong about what was going on, and the raised temperature became uncontrollable everywhere... well, that could be a problem. He could design a closer-fit fabric lining for him to wear, but if the issue with his back was that something was pressing against it, none of what he’d come up with so far would help.

                  Whatever, he was a genius; he’d figure something out eventually. For the moment, he’d just let his brother sleep.

                  “Hey, Baymax. Make Tadashi your primary patient and watch him while I’m downstairs, okay? I’ll be back around lunch time to check on him.”

                  Baymax plopped itself down at the foot of the bed, and Mochi made his way over to curl up on it’s lap. When the robot began petting the cat, murmuring about a “hairy baby,” Hiro rolled his eyes and made his way downstairs.

                  Spoiled cat.


 

                  The cup of coffee Hiro had downed was doing nothing for his energy levels, and only briefly helped his throat. He unlocked the café door, but left the closed sign up, since the café wasn’t due to open for another twenty minutes. Still feeling like he was trying to move through molasses, Hiro made and consumed another cup of coffee, before giving up on caffeine and starting a batch of hot cocoa. He didn’t bother putting more than a couple of batches of pastries in the ovens, since Fridays were for clearing out the week’s merchandise and making room for what would be made early on Sunday.

                  Leaning heavily against the counter, Hiro lifted his head towards the door when the jingling sound reached his ears. Kyouji stepped into the café, and hung a black umbrella on one of the hooks by the door.

                  Hiro addressed him as he made his way to the counter. “Could you flip the sign on the door to ‘open’? I don’t want to walk all the way over there.”

                  Kyouji hummed in acknowledgement before fixing the sign.

                  Hiro yawned and rested his head against his arms, wondering if he could just take a nap. “It looks like we won’t be too busy today, since the weather report says it’s going to storm. Though, I guess you already knew that.” Hiro nodded towards the umbrella.

                  “Haha, yeah.” Kyouji adjusted the sleeve of his light jacket. “It’s so cloudy out there that it’s like nighttime, so I borrowed it from... a friend.”

                  Hiro noticed the slight pause, but chose not to comment on it, especially since his throat decided to remind him that it felt like he had swallowed sandpaper. He gave a couple of dry coughs before burying his head in his arms again.

                  “I guess it would be kind of dumb to ask if you were feeling okay.” Kyouji made his way behind the counter and pulled one of the sheets of cooked pastries from the oven when the timer went off.

                  Hiro chuckled, wincing slightly at the pull on his throat. “Agreed. I’m fighting it with sugar and caffeine, but I don’t think it’s working. I promise it’s nothing contagious.”

                  Kyouji shook his head. “I wasn’t worried about that. I don’t get sick.”

                  Hiro turned to look at him incredulously. “Ever?”

                  He broke eye contact, and his eyebrows furrowed in concentration as he tried to remember a time he’d ever been sick outside of food poisoning. Eventually, Kyouji shook his head.

                  “Lucky.”

                  Kyouji let out something between laughter and a scoff, as if he was in on some joke Hiro didn’t know about.

                  “What?” Hiro asked. “Being sick sucks.”

                  “I’m sure it does.” Kyouji grinned in amusement.

                  “Don’t patronize me.” Hiro buried his face in his arms again.

                  “Your drink’s ready.”

                  Hiro moved faster than he had all morning, taking the hot cocoa from underneath the machine and downing half of it in a quick series of gulps. Kyouji just stared.

                  “That was boiling water a couple of seconds ago.”

                  “And now the machine has made it wonderful hot cocoa for me to enjoy. You’re starting to catch on.” Sarcasm was so much fun.

                  Kyouji rolled his eyes, though he reluctantly grinned. “I meant that you should be writhing in pain, since you probably managed to scald yourself all the way to your stomach.”

                  Hiro shrugged. “I didn’t, though. The machine probably hasn’t warmed up all the way.” He finished the rest of his drink, before setting the machine for another. His throat was soothed for the moment, but he didn’t know how long it would last.


 

                  Roughly an hour after the two opened the shop, Hiro’s prediction came true when the skies opened up and rain began to beat the concrete into submission. They’d only had a couple of customers come in to get their morning coffee, and it didn’t look like there were going to be any more for a while.

                  Hiro stretched as he looked up at the clock. After two additional cups of hot cocoa (followed by a quick bathroom break), his throat was feeling much better, and the sugar was keeping him semi-coherent. He decided that it was too early for the lunch crowd, which in addition to the downpour outside, meant that he probably could spare a moment to go check on Tadashi.

                  “Hey, Kyouji. I’m going to go check on my brother. I’ll be back in a bit.” Hiro made his way into the backroom. “Try not to destroy anything while I’m gone.”

                  “Take all the fun out of everything, why don’t you?”

                  “I do my best.”

                  Once Hiro had made his way up the stairs, he saw that Tadashi had indeed woken up. He was still sitting on the bed, with his white teddy bear clutched in his arms. He was still in his pseudo-pajamas, and he was being very careful not to let the bear touch his skin. Baymax was hovering nearby.

                  “Hey, buddy. How’d you sleep?”

                  Tadashi shrugged, but didn’t relax his rigid posture. Hiro had been afraid this would happen.

                  “It’s going to be okay, you know.” Hiro started rifling through the materials he had left around his workstation. “We’ll figure something out. I may have already come up with something that could help, so if you’ll pick out what you are going to wear toda-“

                  “I’m not moving.”

                  Hiro looked over at Tadashi, surprised at the response. Tadashi took it as a cue to continue.

                  “Until we are sure that I won’t burn something or someone, I’m staying right here.”

                  Hiro crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’ve got this. Besides, what if you have to use the bathroom?”

                  Tadashi paused to think. “... I’ll use the one in here, but you can’t make me go downstairs.”

                  Okay, he’s agreed to leave his bed. Step two.

                  “And if you get hungry?” Hiro leaned against the desk, focusing on his brother instead of what he was looking for.

                  Tadashi looked up at him like he’d just asked the dumbest question in the world. “You’ll bring me food.”

                  “What if I don’t?” Hiro knew he would probably cave once actually asked, but he really wanted his brother to stop these attempts at self-isolation. It wasn’t healthy... he would know.

                  His brother just looked over at the inflatable marshmallow. “Then I’ll have Baymax get me some.”

                  “I could stop him.” Again, he wouldn’t actually, but he was going to help Tadashi, even if he had to bully him to do it.

                  Tadashi squeezed the bear tighter, looking up at his brother in exasperation that was bordering on anger. “Why are you doing this?”

                  “Because it’s too easy to make this a habit.” Hiro crossed the room, so that he came to stand in front of his brother. “You can’t just shut yourself away. What about our friends? Are you going to shut them out completely? What about Aunt Cass? We don’t know when she’ll come home, but are you going to ignore her until then?”

                  Tadashi rested his chin on the bear’s head, before quickly straightening again, in order to avoid contact. He finally shook his head, setting the bear on the nightstand to avoid accidently scorching it. “Just until we fix this.”

                  “And when would you consider this ‘fixed’, huh? When you’re so suffocated that you explode? You didn’t react this badly yesterday-“

                  “But it’s getting worse!” Tadashi buried his head in his hands. “I kept waking up last night whenever I accidentally rolled on my back, and it took longer and longer for the pain to go away, which means each time it happened, more heat built up, and it was already over 300 degrees last night, when it was just a shirt pressing against it, and do you understand how bad that is?”

                  Hiro had no idea how to respond to that, but his focus shifted abruptly, and his eyes widened. He began to think that his original idea wasn’t going to cut it.

                  “Baymax, can you scan him real quick? And take a picture while you’re at it.”

                  Tadashi looked up at his brother in fury, before he realized that the lighting in the room was remarkably different. “...Hiro?”

                  “Well, congratulations, Tadashi. I think you are officially Fred’s new favorite.” Hiro’s semi-hesitant smirk, as well as his own suspicions, caused Tadashi to glance behind himself.

                  From where the charcoal stripes had peeked out of the cuts in the back of his shirt, flames grew outward and away from his body in two distinct forms. Though they we nearly insubstantial around the edges, they looked solid at the center, as if something could rest on the bright orange and gold masses that flickered with crimson.

                  Tadashi felt like his brain had short-circuited. Wings. He had wings.

                  He had giant. Flaming. Dangerous. Wings.

Chapter Text

                Gogo yanked the café door open, causing the bells above the door to clang jarringly as she pulled her helmet off of her head and dripped rainwater everywhere. Shoving the helmet onto one of the pegs by the door, she rummaged through her pocket to check her phone one last time, just to make sure she hadn’t missed a text that would negate her reason for being there on the way over. She hadn’t.

                She scanned the café for her target, but upon failing to spot him, she approached the counter as unthreateningly as she could muster in her current mood... which was still pretty terrifying.

                “Where’s Hiro?”

                Kyouji, who had been leaning slightly on the counter, straightened at her approach, unconsciously moving his hands behind his back.

                Good. A bit of fear is healthy.

                “He went to check on his little brother. I’m not sure when he’ll be back.”

                “Go get him.” She certainly wasn’t going to go chasing after Hiro for an explanation. He was going to come to her.

                “I don’t think that’s-“

                Gogo interrupted his protest.

                "No one’s here. I can watch the counter for the entire thirty seconds you’ll be gone. Go on.”

                This guy needs to lighten up. Things aren’t that strict around here.

                He still looked a bit uncertain, but shrugged and made his way through the back room.

                Gogo leaned against the counter to wait, still fuming slightly. Aunt Cass was important to her, too, and Hiro hadn’t even bothered to mention anything to her. She’d had to hear it from Honey Lemon, who seemed equally surprised that Hiro hadn’t told her anything.

                Cell phones were invented for a reason.

                Kyouji returned quickly, with a clearly frazzled and worried looking Hiro following not far behind him. She almost pitied him based on his expression alone.

                “Hey, Gogo.” Hiro played with the sleeves of his jacket, his voice a bit raspy. He shot her a nervous smile. “What’s up?”

                “Are you sick?” Gogo’s expression softened a bit. She could understand if he was feeling under the weather. She was still aggravated with his forgetfulness, but it was quickly diminished to exasperation.

                “Baymax says I’m not contagious.” Hiro shrugged as he attempted to clear his throat.

                Gogo hummed, and popped her gum.

                Hiro still has that annoying tendency to keep things from his friends. Speaking of which...

                “Don’t you have something to tell me?”

                Hiro’s expression showed confusion for a split second before realization and slight panic were covered with a shaky smile. “Oh, um, Aunt Cass is awake.”

                “And you didn’t feel the need to share this yesterday when it happened because...”

                “Uh, something came up.” Hiro glanced back towards the stairs subconsciously before he started rambling. “I was thinking that we could go visit her tomorrow when the café is closed, but Teddy... isn’t feeling very well and maybe we should see how he’s feeling tomorrow before we decide anything, because it would be wrong to leave him behind and-“

                “Hiro. Breathe.”

                He took a breath, having realized that he had neglected to, but it caught in his throat and he coughed dryly, wincing.

                "I suppose you’re forgiven. I also wanted to let him know I’ve finished his bike, but...” Gogo glanced out the window at the still pouring rain. “Maybe now isn’t the best time for him to relearn.” She stiffened minutely when she realized what she had implied, but Kyouji didn’t react. “So, maybe I’ll just go say hi-“

                “No!” Hiro realized that he had over-reacted after receiving strange looks from both Gogo and Kyouji, and tried to cover it up. “I mean, he’s really not feeling well, and I think we should just let him rest for a bit and let him come down and see you if he’s feeling better later, and-“

                “You’re doing it again.” Gogo popped her gum as Hiro’s rant dwindled into silence. “What are you hiding, now?”

                “N-nothing.” Hiro grin didn’t convince her.

                Gogo looked to Kyouji, who shrugged, looking curious as well. “I didn’t see anything.”

                “Nothing for it then.” Gogo stretched and walked past Hiro. “I’ll just have to go check on him.”

                “G-Gogo, wait!”

                Gogo didn’t stop until she was standing in the Hamada’s living room. Kyouji had remained downstairs, which was what she had been counting on. She turned to Hiro abruptly. “Spill.”

                “Um...” Hiro glanced back towards the stairs, before facing Gogo again and began to whisper. “I don’t know how much you know, but basically, after we successfully woke up Aunt Cass with the healing tears, we had just managed to get Teddy home when he started to burn through his shirt. I don’t think Kyouji suspects anything; we got Teddy upstairs pretty fast. Honey Lemon stayed for a while to help me put together something that would let him at least sleep without burning the house down.”

                Gogo nodded, having already heard this from Honey Lemon herself.

                “And then this morning... well, Teddy was fine when I went downstairs. After a little bit, I returned to check on him, but the heat had steadily gotten worse while I was away. We got into a little argument when he sprouted... wings.”

                “You had better not be joking.” Gogo gave the shock two seconds to linger before she banished it from her mind. She’d seen some crazy things, though this was steadily rising on the list of insane situations that she found herself a part of.

                “I’m not entirely certain how permanent they are, but Baymax got a picture, so I can prove it if they aren’t there anymore.” Hiro lead Gogo to the Hamada’s shared room.

                Tadashi was curled up on the bed, with his feet tucked underneath him and was looking at something on the viewport of Baymax’s stomach. Bright, golden wings are tucked in close to him, their light reflecting off of the silver fabric covering him and the bed. Tadashi noticed their presence and turned to them, tucking his wings tighter behind him in a subconscious gesture to hide them.

                Gogo, even with the warning, was startled, but did her best not to express it.

               That’s certainly... new.

                The gum she had momentarily forgotten she was chewing provided an easy stalling tactic, and she blew a small bubble and popped it before speaking. “So, can you fly?”

                “Uh, probably?” Tadashi looked like he was surprised at the question.

                Gogo raises her eyebrow. “You sprouted wings and you haven’t even attempted it?”

                “They’re on fire! ...or they are fire. I’m trying to figure that out.” Tadashi gestures at the read out on Baymax. “Either way, I’d like to avoid burning down the café. And I can’t exactly go outside.”

                “Granted.”  Gogo stepped a bit closer, but didn’t do anything super dangerous, like try to touch the new wings. “So, I stopped by to tell you your bike’s ready. When the weather is nicer, we’ll test it and your new wings.”

                Hiro spoke up when Tadashi looked away towards the window, watching the rain beat against the pane.

                “He wasn’t planning on leaving the room until this is ‘fixed.’ He’s quite adamant about it.”

                “That’s a shame.” Gogo shifted her weight to one foot, smirking at the suspicious look that grew on Tadashi’s face. “Guess we’ll just have to carry him out.”

                “What?!” Tadashi drew his wings around himself, creating a small shield of fire. “No! You’ll get burnt!”

                “Nonsense, you wouldn’t allow it.” Gogo nodded in Hiro’s direction, who grinned and took the hint.

                “No. No. Nononono- Hiro!”

                As Hiro reached for his brother, Tadashi retracted his wings away from himself and Hiro, splaying them out behind him. Hiro scooped him up into his arms easily, supporting him by his lower back to avoid directly touching the base of his wings.

                “See? No problem.” Hiro grinned at his brother, but Tadashi wasn’t comforted, if anything his panic only worsened.

                “Put me down, put me down, putmedownHiro!” Tadashi had gone rigid, not allowing himself to move, and the fear was causing an orange sheen of tears to coat his eyes.

                “Sure thing. The second you calm down.” Hiro adjusted his grip on the five-year-old, because as light as he was, it was difficult to hold him when he didn’t hold on in return. “Just breathe. You aren’t hurting me, you aren’t going to hurt me, and you are over-reacting.”

                Tadashi gave in a little, leaning in to bury his face in Hiro’s shirt. “No, ‘m not.” His voice was muffled by the fabric, but he was beginning to let the tension out of his posture. Gogo and Hiro exchanged a smile at his actions. Sometimes it really was like interacting with a five-year-old.

                After he’d calmed down a bit, Tadashi muttered something neither Gogo nor Hiro could make out.

                “Wanna repeat that, buddy?” Hiro asked.

                Tadashi pulled away slightly, clearly considering something. “I got them to go out for a bit, earlier, when you went downstairs.” Tadashi frowned as he looked back at his wings. “It didn’t last. They only went out for a second, and when I got excited about it, they came back.”

                “So, they’re triggered by emotion?” Gogo had begun to inspect the wings as much as she could without touching them.

                “It sure seems like it.” Tadashi kept an eye on his friend, moving the wings away when she got too close for comfort. Hiro had another idea.

                “That might not be the case.” At the strange look he received from his brother, he attempted to explain himself. “I mean, clearly, that’s what triggered it this time... and the time before that... but as far as I can tell, you aren’t experiencing strong emotions at this very second. Shouldn’t they go out, then? Besides that, it doesn’t seem very stable to constantly need to feel strongly about something for them to be present.”

                Gogo nodded her head in understanding. “What did you do earlier to make them turn off?”

                “Uh...” Tadashi’s eyebrows scrunched together. “I just... wanted them to?”

                “Why do you say that like it’s a question? If that’s what happened, then try that.” Hiro watched his brother as he relaxed and suddenly, the wings pulled back into the markings, like when a flame stove is turned off.

                “Baymax, scan him.”

                “I have been scanning him constantly, as requested when he became my primary patient, Master Hiro. Displaying results now.”

                “Ah, right. I forgot about that...” Hiro laughed slightly, looking closely at the results on the screen. “Perfect.”

                Gogo followed after the brothers as Hiro carried Tadashi over to his small workstation. Hiro set his brother down before pulling a couple of fabric swatches from the mess that still covered the desk.

                Before Tadashi could react, Hiro attached one of the patches to the skin between his shoulder blades, covering the marks completely.

                “Tell me if that hurts at all, and we can remove it. I just wanted to try something I came up with last night.” Hiro leaned back against the desk, gauging the reaction.

                Tadashi sat for a moment, waiting for the burning feeling to build up, but it never did. “It’s... cold.” At Hiro’s worried look, he shook his head quickly. “Not in a bad way, more like... stepping into air conditioning in the summer after playing soccer outside.”

                “So, this will keep them contained?” Gogo wasn’t big on the idea of hiding something so useful (and cool), but she could see the problems with having open flames follow you wherever you went.

                “Maybe. Hopefully.” Hiro shrugged. “Teddy, can you try burning through it?”

                “I don’t think that’s the best idea-“

                “Try doing it gradually then. Baymax, pull up a screen of his internal temperatures.”

                Gogo watched Tadashi’s face go blank, the same way it always did when he was concentrating on something. “That’s never going to work.”

                “Huh?” Tadashi was startled out of his thoughts by Gogo’s blunt statement.

                “You’re thinking your way through something that has only been sparked emotionally. Maybe someday you could do it by thought, but let’s stick to what we know.”

                “But I don’t feel anything extreme right now.” Tadashi crossed his arms, looking over at Gogo.

                "You aren’t trying hard enough.”

                “And how would you know? I can’t just feel things out of nowhere.”

                “Ah, I forgot this was you we were talking about. Maybe it is a lost cause.”

                “Hey!”

                Hiro had to hide his grin behind a cough, which turned out to be a bad idea when it re-aggravated his throat. He saw exactly what Gogo was doing. Tadashi misinterpreted Hiro’s actions.

                “Don’t laugh at me!” Tadashi crossed his arms, glaring at his brother.

                Hiro suddenly couldn’t help it, and he started to actually laugh. Tadashi was pouting. It wasn’t his over exaggerated expression that he adopted when he was being sarcastic, but rather an unhappy look might have been taken seriously on an older Tadashi, but on the five-year-old version looked like a kid trying to convince someone he wasn’t tired yet.

                Baymax picked that moment to chime in. “Internal temperatures rising. Minimum temperature required for wings has been reached. ”

                At that statement, Tadashi froze in fear, previous argument forgotten. Hiro sobered up quickly, watching for signs of discomfort.

                “Anything?” Hiro asked, wanting to be certain that his brother wasn’t just hiding or ignoring pain.

                After a moment, Tadashi shook his head in wonderment. “No. Nothing. It still feels cool.”

                “I’ll take that as a success, then.” Hiro grinned. “We can switch it out if it stops feeling right, and it should be easy enough to remove so that you can practice with them. They never did repurpose that abandoned island, so maybe Wasabi could help us clear some space-“

                “I’m not taking it off. Only if I need to switch it out.”

                Tadashi’s response momentarily stunned Hiro, so Gogo spoke up.

                “Don’t be dumb. Would you rather get in a situation where you have no idea how to control them? So what if it’s a little dangerous? Cars can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use them, and so are your wings.”

                “But just touching a car won’t hurt anyone.” Tadashi countered, looking up at Gogo challengingly.

                “Have you ever touched the exhaust pipe after turning off the car? Have you ever stuck your hand in an engine while it was still going?”

                “No! No one would, that’s dumb. Of course it would hurt.”

                “Exactly.” Gogo grinned as Tadashi realized where she had been leading the argument. “There are still people who might, and it could hurt someone, but most people know better. The damage something does depends on the person controlling it. You don’t want to hurt people, so people who have even a touch of common sense won’t get hurt. It’s that simple.”     

                Tadashi looked between his brother and Gogo, finally relenting with a sigh. “Fine. But only on that island.”

                “Sounds good to me.” Hiro grinned, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He had a couple of calls to make.

 


 

                Himitsu let himself into the designated conference room, dropping unceremoniously onto one of the couches. He flipped his phone into the air, catching it again and again as he waited for prior business to come to an end. He grinned as he watched another dealer who had thought too highly of himself leave hurriedly with his tail between his legs. It was always nice to see arrogant upstarts get knocked down a peg or two. At least he got to leave intact.  Himitsu waited until he heard the door click shut before speaking to the man on the other side of the small room.

                “Ne, taishou. I thought we weren’t talkin’ to any more of Yama’s toy soldiers.”

                “It was hardly a talk, and it’s easier to discard his toys than to buy my little brother new ones.” Settling more firmly in the armchair, he continued to address Himitsu. “On a more important note, I have yet to identify any successes other than the two already known about, and my source is being... less than forthcoming. I believe he’s growing a conscious, or has become infinitely more ambitious. In either case, new methods will need to be taken. It’s unfortunate that we cannot let what we are searching for widely known just yet.

                As it is, the longer we wait, the more troublesome this is going to become. With one tentatively on our side, and the other beginning to develop, if your reports hold true, time is our enemy. Things will only become more difficult to contain from here on.”

                “Isn’t that why ya let the Fujitas in on it?” Himitsu was aware that they were the damage control on this assignment, and it was unusual for them to be assigned anything where they were not the main players.

                “They are not fully aware of the details of this job, and I suspect Jadoku knows even less. It would be ideal if it stayed this way until the assignment is complete.”

                “He’s picked up on a bit from being around the kid, but he’s missing too much info’ to tie anything together.” Or at least Himitsu hoped so.

                “You should not have allowed him get so close to them, especially without a firm basis to keep him grounded. He needs to make the decision on his own, or he is useless to me.”

                “He’ll come to, just give ‘im time and a good reason.”

                The man considered Himitsu for a moment, before deciding to let things continue to play out. “Don’t forget, we may need both of them, but they don’t need to be on our side. Either of them. Understand?”

                “’Course I do. You’ve got nothin’ to worry about.” He’d make sure of it.

                “We’ll see. That’s all for now, Himitsu.” He waved his hand to dismiss him, and Himitsu stood and bowed only slightly mockingly, before turning to walk out the door.

                “Dewa mata, Taishou-sama.”

Chapter Text

            ...I broke it.

            The register’s display was completely blank, though the little light on the side indicated it was on. Kyouji had tried restarting it, but there was no change in the functionality of the machine. The little green light shone mockingly up at him, but the display refused to respond.

            Wonderful.

            At that moment, the café door opened with a jingle and a mildly disgruntled customer stepped inside. Wringing rainwater out of her dark ponytail, the woman hung her helmet on a peg by the door. She began to approach the counter with a polite smile, before raising her eyebrows in surprise and recognition.

            “I haven’t seen you in a while, how’ve you been, Kyouji?” Adjusting the wristbands under her jacket, she finally made it to the counter, not bothered by the blank look Kyouji was giving her. “It is Kyouji, right?”

            ...am I supposed to know her? She looks... vaguely familiar. Black hair and blue eyes aren’t too common, so why can’t I think of a name?

            “Yeah, it is...” Kyouji searched his brain, trying to think of her name, but ultimately failing. Worst. Person. Ever. ...wait. “Sorry, but, you are...?”

            “Oh, don’t even worry about it. My name’s Araminta, though everyone calls me Ara, for short.” She smiled again. “We talked a bit in high school, but I was usually pretty quiet.”

            Well, that explains it.

            His focus in high school hadn’t exactly been on other people, he’d been more focused on graduating, what with all the days he had had to miss. Every now and then someone would approach him and try to talk to him, usually to make them feel better about themselves, but they never stuck around. It wasn’t like he’d had a whole lot of time to spend with friends, anyway.

            “It has been a while, then.” It’d been roughly three years, but who was counting? “So, what can I get you, Ara?”

            Kyouji had checked, and the cash drawer still opened. If she paid in cash, there’d be no problem, otherwise... he’d figure something out. He had out the mostly untouched notepad to jot down prices and tax, just to make sure he had a record of things the register would usually keep track of. It shouldn’t be too difficult, it was just adding and multiplying, grade school stuff.

            “I’d like... some hot cocoa and sweet bread, please.”

            “Got it. Shouldn’t take too long.” Kyouji made a quick note of the price as he set the machine for her order.

            After placing the cup under the spout, he wrote down the final total and turned back to see that she hadn’t moved from the counter.

            Why is she still standing there?

            “So, I saw Gogo’s bike outside, I was wondering if she was around.”

            They know each other? Huh. Small world. Kyouji nodded, gesturing upstairs. “She and Hiro just went to check on Hiro’s little brother.” This feels familiar. “I’m not sure when she’ll be down.”

            Hopefully he wouldn’t be sent upstairs again. When Gogo had insisted earlier, every step up the stairs had fed the growing feeling of invading somewhere he didn’t belong. Considering what he had to do, he had a way to go before he could convince himself to be comfortable in their home. This arrangement was so different from how he normally operated, which was to identify a mark, take it, and vanish. There was no aftermath, no repercussions so long as he was successful, and, if he chose correctly, he’d never see the victim again.

            While these thoughts distracted him, Araminta came to a decision, having glanced out the window at the rain distastefully.

            “I’ll stay and see if she comes down. I’ll take any excuse to not go back outside, and swim practice got cancelled, so I don’t have anywhere else to be.”

            Kyouji hummed in acknowledgement, putting his thoughts aside for later.

            When her drink was finished, Kyouji delivered it and let her pick out which sweet bread she wanted, since there was no reason she couldn’t, as the café wasn’t busy. Thankfully, she paid with cash, and Kyouji handed back the change, expecting her to go find a seat while she waited. Instead, she hung around the counter, looking like she was considering something. Finally, she spoke up after taking a sip of her drink.

            “So, I haven’t seen you here before, what have you been up to since high school?”

            ...What do I even say to that? I really should have come up with something by now... Half-truth it is then.

            “Working.” Kyouji shrugged, hoping to convey disinterest, and not deception.

            Ara laughed. “Oh, really? Here I’d thought you’d have retired by now.”

            And what is that supposed to mean? ...oh. She’s being sarcastic.

            Kyouji was saved from having to cobble together a response when Gogo and Hiro came down the stairs. Gogo spotted Ara, and quickly made her way over.

            “You here for another race?” Gogo smirked, crossing her arms and popping her gum.

            “Not in this weather. Cars wouldn’t be able to see us.” Ara responded, taking another sip of her drink.

            “Ah, woman up!”

            The girls made their way over to a table near the window, continuing to chat out of earshot. It appeared that Gogo was still attempting to convince Ara, and she seemed to be considering it.

            Hiro grinned at their actions, leaning against the counter and appearing more composed than he had that morning. Whatever had been bothering him must have been solved or put from his mind.

            Well, maybe now would be a good time to tell him about the register...

            Before Kyouji could voice anything, however, Hiro spoke up.

            “Chatting up the customers, huh?” His voice still sounded like he had attempted to swallow barbed wire, so his tone of voice was all but indiscernible. Either way, Kyouji had not been expecting that.

            “No!” Too harsh. “That is, I wasn’t... I don’t-“

            But Hiro had started laughing good-naturedly, “Relax, I was joking. Besides, it’s not like we’re busy. It’s just the most social I’ve ever seen you be here.”

            Kyouji shrugged, pushing his bangs back off of his face. “She spoke to me first. Anyway,” might as well deal with it now, “there’s something wrong with the register. The light comes on and the drawer opens and everything, but the display’s shot.”

            Hiro looked confused for a moment, coming around the counter to get a better look. Kyouji watched the rain out the window while he waited, drumming his fingers on the wall he’d leaned up against. Hiro hummed and pressed a small tab on the side of the machine, removing an electronic chip before sliding it back in place. A small message appeared on the bottom of the screen, before quickly disappearing and returning to it’s original blankness.

            ‘Memory card is full.’ Hiro chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck.

            “I knew I was forgetting something. I’ve been meaning to get a replacement for the past couple of months, I’ll have one in by Sunday.”

            Hiro was assuming Kyouji could even see the screen from where he was, which he couldn’t, so he was left just as confused as before. “Um, sorry?” So... he’s not upset? What’s going on? I’m not psychic, though that would be useful... or not. Some things I’d rather not know.

            Hiro turned to him, shaking his head and indicating towards the machine. “You didn’t do anything, the memory card’s full.”

            “Oh.” Well, people have been mad at me for less. Better to err on the side of caution... though it won’t matter in the end.

            The sound of chairs scraping across the tile floor drew two sets of eyes to where Gogo and Ara had been previously sitting. The women made their way to the exit and grabbed their helmets, slipping them on before they made their way out the door.

            “We’ll be back soon!” Gogo let the wind slam the door shut behind them.


 

            Shortly after they left, the lunch crowd trickled in... all three people. The pounding rain was proving to be a greater deterrent than they had previously thought. Realizing the place wasn’t going to get busy any time soon, Hiro left Kyouji to continue what he was doing and disappeared into the back room again.

            The hours trickled by slowly, with the rare customer, and Kyouji had to mentally remind himself multiple times that he couldn’t bring out a syringe and fiddle with it like he normally did. He opted instead to take out his ID, distinctly ignoring the box his hand brushed against in his pocket, and began to flip it between his fingers. Looking up at the clock, he tried to guess how many more people would show up in the remaining hour.

            He slipped his ID back into his pocket when the door opened, but Ara and Gogo lingered in the doorway to talk, letting some of the cold air in. Gogo grabbed the rest of her belongings and left, while Ara hung up her helmet again and continued into the café. When she got close enough, Kyouji could see her visibly shivering as she brushed off rainwater.

            “Could I get another hot cocoa?”

            Kyouji shrugged. “I don’t see why not.” The machine was preset to cocoa, having been the popular drink of the day, so it only took a couple seconds to start it.

            Ara leaned against the counter, intent on an actual conversation. “So, how long have you worked here?”

            “A...a couple days.” Kyouji was uncertain what this was about. What is she doing?

            Ara laughed. “They seem to like you pretty well for only a few days of knowing them.”

            That stings.

            Kyouji fixed his eyes on the floor. “Yeah, they’re nice like that.”

            Of course they had to be decent people... this is stupid, just get over it. Heh, although...

            Smirking a little, he looked up at her. “Though maybe the ice was broken when one of them hit me with their car.”

            Her eyes widened in surprise, and Kyouji noticed her pupils thin, rather than shrink. Okay, that’s a little weird, but I don’t really have room to talk...

            “They hit you with a car?! Who? ...I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Gogo, she tends to use her bike instead.”

            “I’m not sure if you know him: Wasabi, the big guy. Wears sweaters all the time, takes classes up at the college?”

            Ara smiled kindly. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of him. The neat freak.”

            Kyouji wasn’t certain how comfortable he was with the word ‘freak’ being used so lightly, but she didn’t seem to mean anything by it... if anything it was fondly used.

            “Is that why he’s always re-cleaning things?” He laughed lightly. “I thought he just didn’t think I did it right.”

            “I’ve heard he doesn’t think anyone does it right except himself. He has his own...” Ara tilted her head. “His own ways of doing things.”

            “Fair enough.” He realized he had no idea what to say next, but noticed her drink was done and passed it to her, thinking through what had already been said while the transaction occurred. “Um, you said something about swim practice?”

            Her face lit up and she stood a little straighter, grinning widely. “Yeah! I’m in a team competing to get to the Olympic level.”

            “That’s impressive.”

            Ara nodded proudly. “How about you? Any sports?”

            Kyouji scoffed lightly at the idea, opening his arms to indicate his slight form. “Do I look like I do any sports?” I probably wouldn’t last very long.

            Her smile turned sad momentarily, Is that pity?, before she looked over him. “You have a pretty good build; I’m sure you’d be good at a few.”

            “Uh, thank you?” He laughed uncomfortably. “Maybe running?” And that is known as a Freudian slip. Great. Let’s make a mental list of all the negative things that could mean...

            Luckily her smile remained kind. “Running seems good.”

            She paused for a moment, rolling the cup between the palms of her hands. “Anyway, I heard they’re hiring here. I already have a job as a vet, but I’m going to need a second one, especially after college lets out.”

            Kyouji nodded. “Gogo mention that to you? Yeah, Hiro’s the one to talk to... wherever he disappeared to. If you want in, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” It’s not that difficult.

            “Yeah, she did. I can just ask her when it’d be a good time to come talk to him.”

            “Sounds like a plan to me, though I’m getting the idea that it won’t be too formal, if that’s what you’re expecting.”

            Ara laughed. “I’m not. I know Gogo pretty well, and have heard about the group a lot. They’re pretty chill.”

            “Then you shouldn’t have any problems.”

            Glancing out the window, Ara noticed the rain had eased to a light drizzle and evening was approaching. “I guess I’ll check in tomorrow, I should probably head on home.”

            “We’re closed tomorrow, actually.”

            “Sunday, then. See ya.” She waved as she made her way out the door.

            “Bye.” That was... different.


 

            Hiro made a last minute appearance at closing time, helping straighten things up while grabbing another way too hot cup of cocoa to ease his throat. When everything was in order and Kyouji was leaving, he insisted Kyouji take some of the food that wouldn’t be sellable by Sunday, though it would still be good -“Food laws are a pain”-.

            Kyouji left and made his way through town back to the house, eating as he walked, mentally grateful that the rain had stopped, since holding an umbrella and eating at the same time would be difficult. He set about sneaking in through the window again, since the rent idea was entirely subjective to his father’s mood. Considering what the next day was... it would be better to just grab some stuff and leave than to attempt to negotiate anything.

            It’s not like I could have changed anything.

            Tossing some clothes into a backpack he was frankly surprised hadn’t fallen apart yet, Kyouji listened for any sounds of movement in the house. Deeming it safe enough, he set the backpack by the window and ventured a little further into the house.

            When he made it to the bathroom, he tried the faucet, glad to see the water was still on, if not exactly warm. Moving quickly, he took a short, freezing shower and grabbed some essentials on his way out.

            I’m not risking coming back here for a while, might as well be prepared.

            He’d made it back to the room and was shoving the supplies in his bag when he heard a door slam in the house.

            Damn it.

            He hadn’t been particularly loud, but he hadn’t been silent either, thinking the house was still empty. Kyouji swung the backpack on and was opening the window when he heard heavy footsteps approach at a fast rate. He was almost out the window when the door to his room swung open the rest of the way, hitting the opposite wall.

            “Hey!”

            Kyouji heard the familiar click of a safety being removed and bolted the second both feet hit the ground. If he could make it around the side of the building before he did, he’d be fine. He was infinitely grateful the gate was still unlocked, and he got far enough away fast enough to avoid being spotted again. He leaned against a wall to catch his breath.

            Running. Heh. Guess I am good at it. 

            Looking up at the sky, Kyouji decided he’d better start walking before the clouds decided to empty themselves again. He still had a ways to go.


 

            His hair had finally dried and no longer felt like icicles brushing against his face by the time he made it to his target safe house on the outskirts of the city. Not too many people were able or willing to go out that far to do business, so it was pretty safe from the possibilities of deals going wrong or walking in on a deal one shouldn’t have been privy to. Another plus was that it also had a lock on the front door. While it could be easily picked, at least there was some warning, and it deterred those who were too drunk to unlock it.

            It was pitch black outside, and though Kyouji was ready to use the meager light from his phone to work on the lock, he was glad when the door swung open without him needing to. Closing and locking the door behind him, Kyouji noticed a light on in the otherwise darkened house.

            As he made his way into what would have been the living room if it were still a normal house, Kyouji stopped in his tracks. Sitting in the middle of one of the two facing couches, laptop resting on his crossed legs, was Himitsu, typing away furiously at something. Kyouji briefly considered turning and finding somewhere else to stay, but decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Instead...

            “Are you stalking me?”

            Himitsu finally looked up from the computer, looking slightly affronted before he grinned.

            “’Ey, I was here first.”

            “Uh huh.” Kyouji dropped his backpack by the second couch, taking a seat and wondering if any of the other rooms had something semi-comfortable to sleep on. It was unlikely, considering the state that most secluded sleeping areas devolved to, but maybe he’d check in a moment when his feet stopped pulsing from the walk. The couch would normally suffice, but it was the audience that bothered him more. He didn’t like sleeping in front of people, a fact that he doubted would ever change.

            “Soooo, ‘ow was work?” Himitsu had continued typing, looking briefly between Kyouji and the screen.

            “Really?” Kyouji crossed his arms.

            “’Ey, I’m just tryin’ to make conversation.”

            “Hm.” Kyouji leaned back against the couch, relaxing his posture. “I think I found my eventual replacement.”

            At Himitsu’s questioning look, he elaborated a little. “For the café. I won’t be able to work there after this, but there’s this girl that could take my place, and-“

            Himitsu started laughing. “Yer way too concerned with ‘em. It won’t matter what happens after this, ya won’t see ‘em again.”

            “Well, maybe if-“ Kyouji cut himself off and looked to the side, his mental filter having failed to silence him soon enough.

            “...if what, Jadoku?” Himitsu shut his laptop, setting it to the side, suddenly dead serious.

            “...if they never find out it’s me.” Kyouji looked at his hands as they rested in his lap. He didn’t dare say what was actually spinning half-formed in his mind.

            If I never did it in the first place.

            Himitsu relaxed minutely, believing the lesser form of Kyouji’s ‘if.’ “...you got attached.” It was a quiet statement, said with absolute certainty.

            Kyouji bit the inside of his cheek, choosing his words carefully before looking up. “Why wouldn’t I?” That was not what I was going to say, traitor tongue.

            “So ya tied yerself to the first group that ‘accepted’ you?” Himitsu let out a short, humorless laugh. “Gotta break it to ya, they haven’t.”

            Kyouji glared at him. “Himit-“

            “No. Y’aren’t listening. They haven’t. Unless, o’ course, y’ve come clean about the stealin’, the blood, th’ scales, the real reason yer there...” Himitsu stopped when fear and confusion flashed across Kyouji’s face. “What’s wrong?”

            “That’s... how do you know about-“ Kyouji subconsciously brought his right arm up to hold his left, where the scales had only begun to fade. He was on the defensive, having been pretty sure that he’d been able to keep that fact from all but a few. Apparently not. He felt the rising need to leave.

            “About what, yer scales?” Himitsu didn’t see the problem. “O’ course I know, information freak, remember?” And there was that word again... though not targeted at me. “Besides, ya aren’t that great at hidin’ em. Granted, y’ve gotten better about it, but ya need to be more aware o’ yer surroundings.”

            Kyouji’s grip on his arm tightened, and his back hunched slightly as he waited for... something.

            “’ey.” Something in his voice made him look up again, though Kyouji couldn’t read his expression. “It doesn’t change anythin’, not with me... but do ya really expect it t’be that way with them?”

            Still in a state of shock, Kyouji shook his head, unable to find his voice, but not wanting Himitsu to think he thought otherwise. Why isn’t he...

            “Besides that, it’d be impossible t’avoid lettin’ em know it was you, since th’ kid can talk an’ all.”

            When Kyouji looked to the side, Himitsu guessed at what was really going on, but he didn’t directly call him out on it. “This isn’t gonna go away, y’know. Failure here would end... badly for ya.”

            How would he know... and why would it matter? ...Wait, that’s important, why does he know that? Where does he tie into all of this?

            Kyouji looked at Himitsu, a pit growing in him as he realized something. He’s lying to me. This has never been about some stupid loan. He’s involved in this.

            “Why are you telling me this?” Kyouji’s voice was pitched low and laced with venom he couldn’t keep out of it; he was too angry. He stood, feeling a bit more in control on his feet. “What are you getting out of it?”

            “Woah, hey.” Himitsu stood as well, hands out in a placating manner, though he didn’t seem afraid.

            Why does he have to be taller than me?

            “I-I j’st...”

            He never stutters, what is he up to?

            Himitsu sighed, letting his arms fall to his sides. “I don’t wanna see that ‘appen to ya.”

            ...liar. Liarliarliarliar-

            Kyouji turned, intent on getting his bag and leaving, when Himitsu took hold of his left arm.

            “Let. Go.”

            “Ya don’t have t’believe me, but if y’re still thinkin’ o’ backin’ out, ya need to know somethin’, or y’re gonna get y’rself killed.”

            Himitsu didn’t let go or continue until Kyouji had turned back to face him, impatience and anger rolling off of him in waves.

            “Th’ box I gave ya-“

            “What about it?” Kyouji cut him off.

            “If you would just-“ Himitsu bit off the end of that statement, squashing the urge to take the bait and escalate the situation into a shouting match. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose before continuing. “ –it’s gotta low signal transmittin’ at all times, can’t be turned off. Run with it, and someone’ll track ya down. Abandon it, an’ they’ll start huntin’ for ya.”

            ...This is insane. None of this can be that important. Why is this such a big deal?

            But even as he was thinking this, his anger was subsiding, leaving him with nothing but an empty ache as he realized the extent, though not the reasons, of what he was involved in.

            Also...

            “...what do you want?” His shoulders fell, and he looked down.

            “What d’you mea-“

            Kyouji shook his head, momentarily annoyed, before his expression once again became despondent. “I’m not stupid. You just gave me information that would save my life. You never ‘do anything for free,’ so... I’d rather know up front what I owe you.” Kyouji shrugged, waiting for the verdict.

            Himitsu glanced at his watch, before grinning slightly.

            12:03

            “Consider it a birthday present, ‘kay?”

            wait, what?

            “How the hell do you know when my birthday is?”

 

Chapter Text

            Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, without a single cloud to prevent the sun’s rays from quickly thawing the frost-dusted ground. Hiro smirked as he glanced out the window, knowing the perfect weather made Tadashi’s go-to excuse to avoid trying out his new wings null and void. Rubbing the remnants of the sleep he’d barely been able to get out of his eyes, Hiro made his way over to Tadashi’s side of the room and shook his shoulder gently.

          “Teddy, wake up. The gang’ll be here soon.”

          “They’ll wait.” Tadashi mumbled, rolling over to his other side so he faced away from Hiro. Hiro sighed in exasperation, feeling the itch in his throat worsen for a second before dying away. There were only so many ‘fun’ ways to wake someone up before it became a bit annoying, and Hiro wondered if Tadashi was doing it intentionally to get back at him for his own terrible sleeping habits.

          Hiro took a firm grip on the covers and tugged, removing them in one pull and earning a noise of extreme dissatisfaction from his brother.

          “Up. If you aren’t in the kitchen when I’m done with breakfast, I’ll eat your share too.”

          “...someone’s a sourpuss this morning.”

            Tadashi blindly reached for the covers to pull them back over his head, but quickly found that they were missing. Hiro had taken them over to his own bed, meaning Tadashi would have to walk across the cold wood floor to retrieve them. He quickly decided that that would be too much trouble, as he wouldn’t even be able to lift them once he got to them.

            Shrugging on the bumblebee hoodie and pulling a pair of jeans over his pseudo-pajamas, Tadashi made his way to the kitchen area. After pulling himself up onto one of the stools, he leaned against the counter, picking at the sleeve of his hoodie, trying to figure out if the emotion churning in his stomach was excitement, dread, or some unholy offspring of the two.

            Hiro, meanwhile, was staring blankly into the fridge. Tadashi was about to ask what he was doing when Hiro shut the door with a sense of finality, cringing slightly at the sound of glass moving inside as he reached for the cabinet instead.

            “I’m feeling lazy. It’s a cereal morning.”

            “Hmm.”

            Tadashi accepted the box of solid sugar bites mixed with cardboard, otherwise known as Lucky Charms, and managed to make a minimal mess while pouring himself a bowl from the nearly empty box. His hands were too small to wrap around even the small side of the box, so he had to sort of hug it in order to move it properly. Hiro hid a grin while Tadashi stared him down, daring him to say anything.

            “So, what time are we going to visit Aunt Cass?” Tadashi asked as he settled back into his seat. "You promised, remember?"

            “I remember." Hiro emptied out the remainder of the box, tossing it in the recycle bin from where he sat. "It'll be sometime after you’ve flown or at least attempted to fly, and before you remaster riding a bike.”

            Tadashi looked up in alarm. “We’re doing that today, too?”

            Hiro nodded as he took a large bite of his own cereal, but upon attempting to swallow, coughed harshly, rubbing his throat with a wince.

            “Been eating long?” Tadashi teased, until he realized his brother was actually in pain. “You okay?”

            Hiro nodded again, taking a gulp of milk from his glass and clearing his throat a couple of times. “Yeah, it just got caught for a sec. I’m fine.”

            “Maybe we should get Baymax to ch-“

            “I said I’m fine, Teddy.” Hiro rolled his eyes, but was careful to take more measured bites of his breakfast. “You worry too much, I can take care of myself... and you for that matter.” Hiro poked Tadashi’s arm with the handle of the spoon.

            Upon hearing a knock on the front door, Hiro left his dishes by the sink and went to let his friends in. Tadashi trailed behind slowly, hoping to prolong the time before he had to test out his new ability. Honey Lemon gushed over Tadashi wearing the bumblebee hoodie, snapping a picture with the camera she had been sure to bring along, and Gogo made a comment on the little fabric wings sewn on the back that Tadashi hadn’t noticed were there.

            It was too late to change, as Fred was rushing them all out the door, far past ready to see the real wings for the first time. Remembering to at the last minute, Hiro had to run back inside to grab Baymax’s charging station, mentally thanking himself for finding a way to make it even more portable years earlier as he strapped it to his back. Sometimes transportation by wheels wasn't the best option.

            When the team had finally piled into the van, Wasabi carefully drove to Fred’s mansion, having gotten over his refusal to drive. He wasn't perfectly comfortable yet, and spent the majority of the trip double and triple checking his mirrors and refusing to take part in the various conversations that Gogo and Honey Lemon made a game of trying to drag him into.

            They had just broached the topic of whether rollerblades could function on synthetic ice, regardless of the wheels being unable to turn, when they finally arrived. Honey Lemon passed Tadashi a better fitting flame-retardant suit to wear that she'd pulled together, and Tadashi went to change into it immediately, as one of the sleeves was coming loose on the original. It had only been meant to last overnight, and had held together better than Tadashi had thought it would.

            Once Tadashi returned, the group transferred to Fred’s helicopter, Honey Lemon perching next to a window with her camera to get photos of the view they'd be treated to on the way over. The last to enter was Wasabi, who had finally psyched himself up and took the seat kindly left empty for him, as it was farthest from the door. As soon as everyone was settled, they began the journey to the island.


 

            “There it is.” Hiro pointed out the window to the overgrown quarantined area that was growing steadily larger as they descended.

            One could easily make out the outline of the landing bay, and off to the side was the small introductory building that the team had sliced their way into five years prior, which would lead down into the vast underground lab that, assumedly, had gone untouched for as many years.

          “Can we go exploring for a bit?” Tadashi turned towards Hiro, preferring the idea of searching through an abandoned science facility to trying something that would likely never have practical use in his life. And if he could distract him, then perhaps...

          But Hiro was quite familiar with the diversion tactic, and saw right through Tadashi.

            “Maybe after we've finished our other project," Hiro smirked, but remained vague, well aware of the presence of the pilot. "We’ll have to see how long this takes.”

          The helicopter landed, and Wasabi was the first one out when the doors opened, visibly relaxing when his feet touched solid ground. Once everyone had disembarked, the pilot leaned back in her seat, pulling out a gaming device to occupy her time while the crazy group went and did who knows what. She was paid to be a glorified taxi driver, and could not be held responsible for what they did in the interim, especially if she didn't know the details.

            Looking around, the team was surprised to note that even though no one had visited in years, the paths were still remarkably clear. They were able to make their way further inland without any issues. There was plenty to be said for the efficiency of wildlife.

          “Dude, we totally should have worn our suits, for old time’s sake.” Fred grinned as he sped ahead then lagged behind and decided the path was too boring, making his way through the overgrowth along the side, swinging around tree trunks and getting his feet caught a marshy spot once or twice.

          Wasabi rolled his eyes at Fred’s antics, adjusting the laser-producing glove on his wrist that he’d brought in order to help clear space for Tadashi’s practice. “Your original one is somewhere at the bottom of San Fransokyo Bay, probably next to my car and Hiro’s wouldn’t even fit anymore.”

          “I upgraded it.” Hiro pointed out. At the curious glances from his friends, he decided to elaborate. “Even if it’s not necessarily needed, I got bored. It was an easy enough project.” He shrugged.

          “Does it have shin-guards this time?” Gogo asked Hiro, smirking slightly.

          “Does it have shin-guards this time?” Hiro did a frankly terrible imitation of Gogo, and had to dodge quickly to avoid being cuffed on the back of the head. “It wouldn’t have been a problem except for that one time.”

          “What time?” Tadashi looked up at Hiro, crossing his arms as he tried to avoid tripping over the various vines that had covered the path. Hiro looked down at the ground, muttering to himself as he adjusted the pack that contained Baymax on his back.

            “Woah. Dudes, come look at this!”

            Wasabi helped clear the way through the thick underbrush, and the group paused when they saw what Fred had been so excited about. At first glance, Hiro would have thought that Fred had finally gone off the deep end, but upon further inspection, the rock and growth only partially concealed the camouflaged door. Though the metal door was locked upon his attempts to open it, Hiro noticed that should it be unlocked, nothing had grown so that its movement would be obstructed. Nothing had grown... or plants had been removed.

            Regularly. And recently.

            "How strange..." Honey Lemon leaned closer to get a picture of the lock and handle, having already gotten one of the door itself.

            "Yeah..." Hiro got the feeling that maybe they shouldn't be there, but quickly pushed it to the side. It wouldn't be difficult to convince someone they were ignorant of any trespassing, and with their private helicopter, they could play up the arrogant rich kid facade if they had to. They'd be fine. "We'll find a place a bit further, it's probably just a back exit for the old lab. Maybe they're finally cleaning it up."

            Tadashi didn't look so sure.

            "Hiro, maybe we should go somewhere else..."

            "You're not getting out of it that easily." Hiro rolled his eyes, ruffling his brother's hair, and already heading back towards the path. He could take care of him, and this was still the best option. Otherwise, they'd have to go inland a few hours to get somewhere even close to as secluded as this place was.

            "But-" Tadashi couldn't shake the unease the place gave him.

            "It'll be fine, Teddy." Hiro's voice had an edge to it as he cleared his throat again, shifting the pack on his back again. Light as he'd managed to make it, Baymax was still heavy, but the wheels wouldn't manage well in the current terrain.

            Giving the door a final look, Tadashi rejoined the group as they continued along the path. He was beginning to think it'd be safer to abandon the clear route, but then again, that would carve their own and leave undeniable evidence that they'd been there.

            Twenty minutes more of Gogo, Hiro, and Wasabi's banter, Honey Lemon stopping every five steps to take a photo, and Fred disappearing for moments, only to reappear ahead of or behind them, and Tadashi was ready to just sit down. He didn't have the stamina to keep up with them as easily anymore, something they had conveniently forgotten. He was also busy trying to swallow down the knot of anticipation that bloomed from his stomach.

            Did they even know where they were going?

            "Guys." Tadashi had fallen slightly behind the group. "Guys."

            "We're almost there." Wasabi looked back with a reassuring smile, before noticing how far back Tadashi had strayed. "Dude, do you need me to carry you?"

            "No, I can make it." Wherever 'it' is...

            "You sure? You weigh next to nothing, and you'd easily fit on my shoulders."

            At this point Gogo and Honey Lemon had stalled, glancing back and waiting for him to catch up. Tadashi huffed, realizing that he'd only cause more issues if he refused for long.

            "Maybe on the way back. We're almost there, right?"

            "Alright, man. And yeah, if I'm right, we're right around the flat area you can see from the air. We'll just need to pick a spot facing away from the mainland."

            Hiro called from just out of sight. "We're there!"

            The rest of the group rounded the bend to find a clearing that spanned the size of a couple of football fields, with only a sapling here and there. Hiro looked over at Wasabi, and received a shake of the head in response.

            "We don't need to clear anything. Those trees would give before they'd do any harm." Wasabi disengaged the laser glove, tucking it into his pack. "No need to unnecessarily kill them."

            Fred laughed giddily, crouching down in front of Tadashi as Hiro unpacked Baymax's station.

            "This is it, dude!" Fred's grin nearly split his face. "Ah, this is so cool!"

            Fred's excitement was contagious, and Tadashi grinned as well, even as his anxiety simmered in the pit of his stomach. He adjusted the silver sleeve of his shirt, hoping it would do the job.

            "We'll see. I may not even be able to get off the ground." He shrugged and the cool patch at his back tingled a little, making him wonder how long between patches he'd have before he had to change them out.

            "Just having wings is awesome enough! And I haven't even gotten to see them yet." Fred pouted, looking over at Hiro. "You could have at least sent a pic or something."

            "I've been a little busy." Hiro jabbed the manual activation for Baymax a little harsher than he meant to. He was well aware of the many things he simply hadn't gotten to. "Besides, you get to see them now."

            "Yeah, I guess so." Fred smiled, standing up. "Still, I like good news. Like Aunt Cass waking up. I know you were busy, but I heard it through Gogo, while she was complaining about having to hear it from Honey. I would have been okay with just a text." He laughed to lighten his words, as he wasn't really upset about it, and held up four fingers. "Four little words, dude."

           "Well, Tadashi could have told you just as easily." Hiro huffed, keeping his back to them as he watched Baymax inflate. "Why not take it up with him?"

            "Hiro?" Tadashi walked over to him, taking a hold of his sleeve. He'd been more on edge than was normal, and while there had been a lot going on, he hadn't known him to get aggravated so easily. "What's wrong?"

            "Nothing." Hiro glanced down at Tadashi, before sighing and rubbing the back of his neck. "Just tired is all. Don't mind me."

            Tadashi frowned, opening his mouth to protest, when-

            "Hello, Hiro. Hello, Tadashi. How may I be of service?" Baymax blinked at them, before looking around at the rest of the group. Gogo had taken a seat on a nearby stump, resting her arms on her knees and popping her gum as she waited for the show. Honey Lemon was busy adjusting her camera to account for the light, and Wasabi was leaning up against one of the thicker trees, arms folded. Fred looked like he was about to take flight himself as he rocked back and forth on his feet.

            "Just a precaution." Hiro placed a hand on Tadashi's head. "This one'll possibly be airborne soon, so keep an eye on him, airbag style, understood?"

            "Yes, Hiro." Baymax nodded. "Might I also suggest a helmet?"

            Hiro's eyes widened, having completely forgotten to grab one, or that one would even be needed. But... Tadashi wouldn't be going very far, likely, and who knows the effect that the fire from his wings would have on a regular helmet. He'd have to look into designing a good one as soon as he had a spare moment, which would probably be... mid January. Hiro sighed, annoyed additionally at the itch in the back of his throat that wouldn't. go. away. He'd make time... as for right now...

            "Not an option right now." He turned to Tadashi. "Okay, buddy. Can you get the patch off yourself?"

            Tadashi reached for the edge, only able to pull a little before the angle simply wouldn't cooperate. He shook his head. Hiro stepped forward to assist, but Tadashi backed away rapidly.

            "No, wait!" Tadashi looked nearly panicked. "They could come out while you're back there..."

            Hiro suppressed a sigh, turning again to Baymax. "Can you get that for us?"

            Baymax easily removed the patch, and Tadashi immediately felt the temperature difference, though, despite his fears, the marks stayed inactive. He took a deep breath and walked further into the clearing, trying to keep a cool head until he was absolutely ready. Turning to face the group, he saw that all of their eyes were on him, and the bubble of anxiety grew. He closed his eyes, feeding the emotion and wishing for the wings to form. There was a moment of silence, before-

            "Ohhhh!!" Fred squealed, "Look! Look! Lookit! Look at them!"

            "We're looking, Fred." Gogo grinned in amusement as Honey Lemon began snapping pictures.

            "Way cool, man." Wasabi nodded in approval.

            Extended out behind Tadashi were two large plumes of fire, fed by the slight breeze and tapering off near the tips. They fluttered softly as Tadashi instinctively tucked them in closer to his body, but given room and allowance to spread, they dwarfed his small frame. They were much larger than they had manifested in his room, and rather than weigh him down, the golden orange flames lifted from the middle of his back, giving him the sensation of barely placing any weight on his feet, as if he could raise them and remain in place, or at least fall very slowly.

            "So, uh." Tadashi looked down, feeling the warmth of his wings at his back. "Now what?"

            "Well," Hiro considered it for a second. "You moved them easily enough when I picked you up earlier. Do you remember how that felt?"

            "Not really?" Tadashi hadn't exactly been focused on moving them, it had just... happened. "I-I can try, though."

            He was hyperaware of the presence of the wings, but it was strange, as there were not muscles and bones so much as simply a feeling of warmth stretching out from the center of his back. Out of curiosity, he reached backwards, drawing his hand close to one of the tucked wings. Baymax had previously determined that they were nearly solid, and when his hand finally touched, there was a feeling of resistance, but with a bit of pressure his hand passed through with no sensation echoing through the wing. A second later he realized he had just stuck his hand in fire and jerked it back, but there was no noticeable effect. The wing closed up behind his hand, as if it hadn't just been breached.

            "Hiro. Breathe." Gogo's voice startled Tadashi, and he looked over to see his brother's expression morph into relief from fear. Oh. He probably really shouldn't have stuck his hand into a fire without warning. Well, at least now he knew he could.

            "Sorry! I'm fine!" Tadashi called over to them, before focusing again on trying to at least move one of the wings. It was a strange thing to attempt, but maybe...

            "There!"

            The voice broke his concentration, and Tadashi opened his eyes, not realizing he had closed them.

            "Fred!" The collective voices chastised him, in varying tones of annoyance.

            Fred looked around at the others. "What?"

            "C'mon, he almost had it." Wasabi shook his head disappointedly.

            "But did he know he had it?" Fred ducked his head after receiving a glare from Gogo. "Sorry."

            Honey Lemon patted his arm consolingly. "It's alright, Freddie, you're just excited. Just... try to hold your enthusiasm for a little while longer."

            Tadashi chuckled as Fred perked up, zipping his lips and watching intently once again. Fred had actually been helpful, as he could place exactly what he'd been doing when he'd succeeded. He'd have to remember to tell him later. For now, though...

            Tadashi reached for that feeling again, this time watching one of his wings and seeing it extend, the other side doing the same. So, that was out, which meant this-

            He tensed as his feet unexpected lost the sensation of the ground underneath them.

            -was down.

            Looking down, Tadashi saw that he hadn't gone more than a couple feet off the ground and was slowly sinking back towards it. He faintly heard applause as his senses kicked back in.

            "Wooo, yeah!" Fred was jumping in place, rapidly looking between Honey and Tadashi. "You got that, right? Please tell me you got that on video."

            "Of course I did, Freddie!" Honey was grinning from ear to ear, unable to clap with the rest because she had to hold the camera steady. "Auto-backup, too."

            Tadashi was already tuning them out, emboldened by the gentle descent to try and push things a little further. He repeated the motion, stronger this time, and shot upwards, extending his wings to keep him aloft. And again. And again, until he could see over the tops of the trees, out towards the edges of the island. Excitement and awe filled him, until he felt ready to burst. This was amazing!

            He was reminded of the feeling he got on his moped, or used to get, anyway, whenever he'd do something particularly difficult or fast, but a hundred times better. This was all him. Sure he could only go up and down at the moment, but still. He looked down at his brother and friends, who looked no bigger than ants at this height, and laughed.

            Hiro was waving up at him, probably yelling as well, but he was out of range. It was fine, he'd lower in just a second. Or two. Was he moving? Tadashi couldn't tell, but nothing seemed to be getting larger or closer.

            Well. This could be a problem.

            Why wouldn't he be moving down like he had earlier? Tadashi couldn't think of anything, unless... unless the emotional surge of being up so high had lengthened his wings.

            He looked out at them, but they didn't seem much different. They were still enormous and flaming, the edges flickering a bit. Maybe if he tucked them a bit...

            As soon as he began to pull the wings in closer to his body, a strong gale picked up, tearing away the flame from the sides of the wings bent against the wind. The separated part flickered and dissipated, drastically shortening the wings. For a second he hung suspended, weightless, before he began to plummet.


 

            Hiro looked up at the small, shining speck that was Tadashi, chewing on his lip as he mentally repeated that he'd be fine, he'd be fine, he'd be fine.

            "He really got himself up there, huh?" Gogo crossed her arms, keeping her eyes trained on the distant form of her friend.

            "Yeah..." Hiro wondered if Tadashi could hear him at that height. "Hey!" Hiro shouted, while waving up at him. He heard no response.

            Fred shielded his eyes against the sun. "He's just kinda hanging there."

            "Think he's stuck?"

            "Gogo!" Wasabi frowned, glancing over at Hiro. He was antsy enough already, without well-meaning jokes.

            "What? It's fine." Gogo pointed upwards. "Look, he's bringing in his-"

            Hiro's heart stopped when he saw part of the wings disappear. "Kuso-"

            Tadashi was falling, the sides of his wings flickering as the air raced past him, destroying them as quickly as they grew back. He was moving too quickly for them to solidify.

            "Baymax!" Hiro turned to him, the panic burning inside him. "Catch him!"

Chapter Text

            Tadashi saw the ground approaching quickly, and could feel the tips of his wings continuously blowing off as they reformed. Thinking fast, he drew his wings in close to his body, willing them to grow thicker and stronger, and began to feel the lift in his back again. He descent slowed greatly, but he was still falling, and Tadashi feared that stretching out his wings again would only put him back at square one. He braced for impact.

            He felt something soft envelope him, and could only tell that he was tumbling by the shifts in balance as what he assumed was Baymax absorbed and dissipated the energy of the fall. When they came to a stop, all the air had been pushed from his lungs, but otherwise, he felt fine. Tadashi distantly heard yelling.

            “Tadashi! Tadashi, are you okay?”

            Baymax had barely let go of him when Hiro was right there in front of him, looking him over for injuries.

            “B-baymax, scan him.” Hiro was shaking, fear consuming him as Tadashi attempted to speak or at least convince his lungs that they liked air.

            “I-“ Tadashi gasped as he tried to get out sound.

            “Scan complete. Current air intake is low. No emergency action necessary. Tadashi, please try to breathe with the tempo of the glow.”

            Tadashi watched as a green light brightened and faded. He had to breathe in for 5 counts, out for 9. When he managed that, the in for 7 out for 12 was suggested, but he’d already regulated his breathing. He also realized that his wings had vanished completely, as he’d inadvertently willed them away when he’d hit Baymax.

            “I-I’m fine.” Tadashi relaxed when he was pulled into a hug, seeing his friend’s concerned faces over Hiro’s shoulder. “I guess that’s enough for today, huh?” He tried to joke, but it fell flat, only Fred cracking a false smile. “Sorry...”

            Hiro had Baymax apply a fresh patch to Tadashi’s back, as the rest stood by quietly, clearly shaken. As soon as that was finished, Hiro scooped Tadashi up in his arms, refusing Wasabi’s offers to carry him.

            “Baymax, carry your own station. We’re leaving.”


 

            The team passed by where the strange door had been, and Hiro paused, going off the path again.

            “Baymax, scan this.” He nodded towards the metal door, shifting Tadashi’s weight in his arms. “See if there’s anything down there.”

            Baymax stood still for a moment. “Unfortunately, the metal in this structure still interferes with my scanner. No life forms or suspicious signals can be detected.”

            Hiro sighed, not really expecting a positive answer.

            Tadashi looked at him curiously. “He wouldn’t be able to see it anyway...”

            “I upgraded him. He used to need his helmet for it, but I modified it so his normal scanner would do it too.“

            “And what else did you change?” Tadashi frowned, even as he mentally acknowledged Hiro had done something amazing again.

            It was just... this was his project. What proved he could make something too, even if he had to work so much harder to get even a fraction of the functionality Hiro could dream up in mere hours.

            “Various things.” Hiro shrugged. “Stuff like this that would be useful in rescue operations to look for survivors.”

            Tadashi muttered, “He’s supposed to work in a hospital...”

            Yeah, it was more useful now, and he supposed he’d lost any right to object to modifications five years ago, but still. It was something he had worked hard on and had a specific vision for and Hiro had come in and changed everything and he couldn’t really even have the right to be upset because it was better like this.

            Hiro made his way back to the path. “And his buddies do. Just Baymax is special, the others only had minor improvements and bug fixes.”

            “Buddies?” Tadashi looked up, curious.

            “Yeah, there’re two in the main hospitals around here. One in fact where Aunt Cass is. Want to try and see it while we’re there?”

            “Yeah...” Tadashi nodded, resting his head against Hiro’s shoulder as they continued their way back to the helicopter.

            Baymax tucked himself back into his portable form at the last bend in the path, where he was then scooped up by Wasabi and transported with them.


 

            After arriving at Fred’s mansion, Tadashi tugged his street clothes back over his flame retardant suit, double-checking that all silver was covered before leaving. The group all piled in the van again to head out to the hospital, still quiet as they processed what almost happened.

            Clearing her throat, Gogo spoke up, trying to change the subject that laid heavily on everyone’s mind.

            “So, Ara, the friend of mine that stopped by the other day,” Gogo looked over at Hiro, who was staring out the window aimlessly, “She said she’d be interested in a job at the café.”

            “Hm.” Hiro didn’t break his gaze.

            Gogo frowned, extending her hand. “Give me your phone. I’ll put in her number. Call her later, okay?”

            “Yeah, whatever.”

            When she received it, she inputted the number and looked over at Tadashi. “Remind this airhead in case he forgets, alright?”

            Tadashi shrugged, watching the hospital building grow larger and larger.


 

            Inside the hospital room, Aunt Cass looked so much better, even from the last time they’d stopped in to see her. She was still gaunt, with pillows holding up her much slighter frame, but there was a healthy glow in her cheeks and she moved much more smoothly than she had.

            Hiro ignored the doctor’s muttered comment about the strangeness of the situation. Let them think what they will. They’d never guess the truth.

            “I’m just so glad I was back in town in time to see you awake.” Honey Lemon beamed from where she sat in one of the chairs that had been pulled up near the bedside.

            “Yes, I’m glad to see all of your faces again.” Aunt Cass smiled, looking over the group. “I’m surprised you didn’t swarm the hospital earlier, but I suppose there are rules and such that have to be followed.”

            Gogo smirked, elbowing Hiro. “I’d have been here sooner, if some genius hadn’t forgotten to tell me about it.”

            “I didn’t know either,” Fred pitched in, laughing slightly. “It was a nice surprise for sure.”

            “I said I was busy.” Hiro crossed his arms, frowning at them.

            “It’s alright, Hiro.” Aunt Cass patted his hand. “Things turned out fine, there was just a break in communication.” She laughed. “It happens more often than you’d think.”

            Hiro nodded, tuning out the conversation as Wasabi chatted about the goings-on in the café in her absence, and Honey Lemon showed her pictures and videos from the morning, leaving out the fact that Tadashi had fallen from the sky in the aftermath. It wasn’t until Fred complained about being hungry that the group realized that it was already afternoon and they hadn’t eaten yet. The group headed towards the door to go to the cafeteria when Aunt Cass called out to Hiro, asking him to stay.

            “Yeah, what is it?” Hiro asked brusquely as he retook his seat, watching the door close behind the others.

            “Well first off, you can drop the attitude, Hiro.” She did not say this harshly, but if Hiro was going to keep up the distant anger, this conversation was not going to accomplish what she needed it to.

            Hiro sighed and straightened a bit in his seat. “I’m sorry, Aunt Cass.”

            “Of course you’re forgiven, Hiro. Now what’s gotten you all upset?” She reached over and smoothed out Hiro’s brow, running a hand through his hair before returning it to the bed, the movement having tired her.

            “It’s just-“ Hiro crossed his arms, leaning back. “Everything’s been annoying me lately, and I’ve been feeling anxious about... well everything, with and without any real reason.”

            He sighed, shrugging and rubbing at his temple as the tightness in his throat grew to an itch again. “I’m probably just tired, what with all of this happening at once. I’ve been trying to keep a lid on it and act normally, and mostly it’s been okay, but...” Hiro trailed off, wondering what he should tell her about what happened on the island.

            “But what, Hiro?” She prompted gently.

            Out with it, then.

            “Dashi fell e-earlier. I-I mean he’s fine now, but i-it was a close thing.” Hiro tightened his arms around himself as his aunt looked surprised and then worried and then sympathetic.

            “I-I can’t- I’m not going to lose him again. Not when I can actually do something about it.” Hiro’s voice became stronger in the end, something in his eyes hardening. “Even if it means he doesn’t fly again.”

            Aunt Cass took one of his hands in hers, running her thumb over the back of it. “I understand where you’re coming from, but you just can’t box him in like that.” She chuckled.

            “I remember when you both were so young, you’d create the craziest things. It was all fine and good, unless your creation decided to do as it pleased. After a particularly close call or ten, I just wanted to trap you both in separate padded rooms and never let you touch another robot ever again.” She shook her head. “But that would have crushed your potential. You boys have done so much with your robots, and I am very proud of you.”

            Hiro looked up at her, grinning slightly as she continued.

            “Clearly it’s a bit different, but he’ll never grow into his ability if you shield him from everything. And he certainly wouldn’t thank you for it.”

            Hiro sighed, picking at his jacket sleeve. “He wouldn’t be able to thank me otherwise.”

            “Now, Hiro... I’m not asking you to throw caution to the wind. Baby steps, with correct safety measures, until he is comfortable with his abilities... That is what I’m asking you to consider, okay?”

            Hiro nodded, hearing the door to the room open and the others file in.

            “The cafeteria was pretty much empty this time of day. I hope you like turkey sandwiches, Hiro.” Fred passed him one of the plastic wrapped meals and a soda.

            Tadashi settled in his seat, munching on his own sandwich. “So, what’re you guys talking about?”

            Aunt Cass smiled. “Just what we’re going to do for Thanksgiving. They don’t want to let me out of here so soon, so I was thinking we could do something up here. I wouldn’t be able to do much on the side of cooking, but,” She shrugged, “It should be fun anyway.”

            Hiro nodded. “I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”

            The others agreed, beginning to divvy up the various responsibilities. Hiro tuned them out, mulling over his aunt’s words.

            Sure. Baby steps.

            He glanced over at Tadashi. That reminded him...

            “You wanted to try and see the bot that worked here, right?”

            Tadashi nodded eagerly, following him out the door.


 

            After asking around a bit, Hiro found that the robot was currently not on duty, and was informed of where it could be found.

            “Here it is.” Hiro gestured at the inflated robot as it stood in it’s charging station.

            “Looks just the same.” Tadashi looked over it, poking it lightly.

            Hiro rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, yeah. No point in changing the ultimate design. It’s currently in the testing phase, though. We need to see how well it works in the actual hospital environment. So far no issues.”

            Tadashi nodded, satisfied.

 


 

            On the way out of the hospital, Gogo reminded the group that they still needed to have Tadashi try out his new bike, or at least transfer ownership as it was currently taking up her much needed space. They all agreed and headed over to the park while Gogo and Wasabi left to pick up the bike.

            Once they arrived at the park, Fred ran over to the swings, Honey Lemon close behind as she snapped pictures. Tadashi and Hiro sat off to the side, Tadashi a little unnerved by Hiro’s silence.

            After a moment or two, Tadashi wandered further into the playground, realizing that he was now the right size to actually do things on it again. He went over to the monkey bars, finding it much easier than he’d remembered them being. Whenever he looked over, Hiro had his eyes trained on him, as if daring him to do anything remotely dangerous.

            Like riding a bike wouldn’t be.

            “Hey.” A girl a little shorter than Tadashi smiled up at him as she approached.

            “Hi.” Tadashi smiled back as he dropped down, uncertain of what to say.

            The little girl had on a white shirt covered in cartoon ladybugs, matching her necklace, bracelets and even her shoes.

            She must really like ladybugs.

            “You’re really good at that.” She pointed up at the monkey bars before holding her hands behind her back.

            “Oh.” Tadashi looked up at them, wondering if they’d always been set so high. “Thanks.”

            “I like your wings.” She smiled again, pointing behind him.

            “Huh?” Tadashi looked back in alarm, before seeing the small fabric bumblebee wings on his jacket. “Oh. Yeah. Thanks.”

            The ladybug girl giggled before running off. “Race ya!”

            “Wait, where?” But she’d already gone quite a distance, so Tadashi just did his best to catch up.

            She stopped by a tree, laughing as she put her palm against the bark. “It’s a tie!”

            Tadashi looked at her blankly. “But you got there first.”

            She shrugged. “It’s what my big sis always says.”

            “Hey, Teddy!” Gogo’s voice startled him, as he turned to see her pushing along a small bike, closely followed by Wasabi, who was carrying an assortment of protective gear. The bike gleamed green in the light, and you could see the difference in the wheels from normal bikes even from the distance they were at.

            “Is that your sister?” Ladybug watched them approach, sitting down in the grass.

            Tadashi shook his head. “No, but that,” he pointed over at Hiro, completely unsurprised to see him watching over Honey Lemon’s shoulder as she filmed the entire thing, “Is my brother.”

            “Ohhhh.” She nodded, chewing on her bracelet. “Is that your bike?”

            “Mhmm.” Tadashi made his way over to the path as Wasabi began to set down the equipment. The others began to head over as well and the girl got up and ran off somewhere.

            “Okay, little man.” Wasabi began to sort it out, putting them in groups of two. “This is all of the stuff I could find that would fit you.”

            “Why not just stick him in a suit of armor?” Gogo joked as she leaned the bike against a bench.

            Tadashi frowned, crossing his arms before sitting down, trying to make sense of the piles of plastic and fabric and where they were supposed to go.

            If he couldn’t even ride a bike...

            Honey Lemon was the first to reach them with her camera, and bent down next to Tadashi to nudge his shoulder when she saw his expression. “What’s wrong, Teddy?”

            “I have fallen every time I’ve done something like this lately.” He looked up at her. “I’m a little tired of it. Can’t we do this another time?”

            Hiro approached, ruffling Tadashi’s hair once he was in range. “We can if you really want to, but if you end your day with defeat, it’ll be harder to start again.”

            Tadashi frowned. Hearing his own advice from his brother was as irritating as it was helpful, but he finally sighed, beginning to slip on each piece. “If this is anything like the last time I got on wheels...”

            “But now you know you can do something about it.” Fred pointed out, grinning as he rocked back and forth on his heels.

            “It’ll still hurt to fall.” Tadashi pouted, adjusting the wrist protectors. Wasabi really had thought of everything.

            Hiro nodded, pulling at his sleeve before picking up the helmet and adjusting it on Tadashi’s head. “You’ll be okay.”

            “Yeah, no more first step downhill riding.” Gogo crossed her hand over her heart. “Promise.”

            Tadashi shrugged, looking over and seeing the ladybug girl returning with her own bright red bike.

            “See, now you have a friend.” Hiro laughed, nudging Tadashi.

            Tadashi climbed onto his own bike, unsteady on the pedals but distantly remembering that it was easier to keep your balance the faster you went. Honey Lemon stepped back, turning the camera so she could see all of the path in the view. Hiro took hold of one side of the handle bars and Wasabi took the other, steadying the bike until Tadashi had picked up a little speed, quickly getting used to the feel of being on a bike again.

            Wasabi let go first, letting Hiro follow along with the bike a little further. Hiro secretly released the bike, just running alongside it as they came back around the loop of the park. Tadashi laughed when he realized he’d managed to at least do this right, without too much assistance, and pulled on the brakes Gogo had actually remembered to include as they approached the group.

            “Yes!” Fred cheered upon their return. “Guess we didn’t need all that padding.”

            “Better safe than sorry.” Wasabi shrugged.

            “Well it definitely went a lot better than the rollerblades.” Gogo snickered, helping Tadashi remove some of the bulkier and more restrictive gear before patting his back.

            “Yeah... rollerblades are still a no for right now, but this,” Tadashi nodded at the bike, “This is great. Thank you, Gogo.”

            “No prob, Teddy.” She tapped twice on his helmet and backed off so that he could take another lap around the park, Ladybug joining in this time.

            “You’re good at this, too.” The little girl spoke up from beside Tadashi, swinging side to side on the bike, making Tadashi nervous. “What d’you mean about your rollerbades?” Her pronunciation was a little off, and Tadashi had to wonder how well he actually passed for a five year old.

            “Um, I tried them, but it didn’t end well at all...”

            She nodded understandingly, weaving a bit as she took her eyes off of the path. “I still can’t either. My big sis tries to help me, but she’s at class now. I’m here with my friend and her mom, but she likes to do the swings and those are scary. You go way up high and I don’t like that, and...”

            Tadashi listened as she rambled on for a few more laps of the park, the group of his friends having settled down and started chatting amongst themselves. He looked over in shock when Ladybug squealed, jumping off her bike without even stopping. He avoided it when it fell hard to the ground, putting his foot down and looking over to see what was going on.

            Ladybug had run to an older looking girl and had jumped into her arms, as what seemed to be her big sister picked her up, hugging her close. Tadashi put down the kickstand and picked her bike back up for her as she and her sister walked over.

            “Thank you!” Ladybug hugged Tadashi before taking her bike and waving goodbye with a huge grin on her face.

            Once they had gone, Tadashi returned to the group, just in time to see Fred scratch at his face and wince.

            “Aww man!” Fred frowned, shaking his head with his hand against his forehead. “I forgot sunscreen!”

            “Freddie, you could have asked. I had some right here.” Honey Lemon dug through her bag, holding out a tube of it.

            “Too late now...”

            Tadashi saw that Fred’s entire face was a bit red, as well as the exposed parts of his arms and neck. He winced in sympathy. “Maybe it won’t be so bad...”

            Fred folded his arms, thinking, before grinning widely. “Hey, Teddy, can I use your tears?”

            He’d barely gotten the question out when Gogo hit him upside the back of his head.

            “Hey!”

            “You earned that, as well as your sunburn. Maybe it will teach to not forget again.”

            “Meanie.” Fred rubbed the back of his head.

            “Never claimed to be nice.” Gogo stood and stretched, looking over at the sun that was close to setting. “I think it’s time to head out.”

            “Right.” Wasabi stood as well, wavering a bit at the head rush from standing too quickly. “Who all wants a ride back?”

            Hiro shook his head. “The café’s just around the corner, and we wouldn’t all fit with Tadashi’s bike. We’ll just walk back. Be sure to send me those pictures.” He said to Honey Lemon as he and Tadashi walked off.

            “Don’t forget to call Ara!” Gogo called to him.

            “I won’t!”

            Hiro helped Tadashi carry his helmet, since he was too tall to comfortable push the bike. He was almost as tall as Tadashi had been, which was amusing to think about. Now if only he could get the big brother part down. Hiro frowned, spinning the helmet in his hands as they crossed the street to the café.


 

            Once they were inside, Hiro sent Tadashi upstairs and called Ara, who was happy to come in the next day. Hiro sighed, straightening and beginning to prepare the café for opening again as he let his mind wander in the silence.

            What if Baymax hadn’t caught him, or hadn’t been enough?

                       What kind of brother let’s someone fly without so much as a helmet?

                                  You could have lost him, and it would have been your fault.

            Hiro shuddered at the mental image of this younger Tadashi lying broken on the ground, feeling something angry burn tightly in his chest.

            Tadashi wouldn’t come to any harm, he’d be sure of it. Hiro’s hands were shaking as he pulled one of the wooden chairs off of the table from where it had rested upside down. He startled when it slipped out of his grip, gasping harshly and feeling the air catch strangely in his throat.

            He released the breath, feeling something warm coat the inside of his mouth before he jerked backwards as flames appeared in front of him.

            Hiro stared in shock at the scorch mark on one of the chairs that still rested on the table, having been merely grazed by the... fire.

            He had just breathed fire... there was unavoidable proof right in front of him. His mind raced even as it insisted that it made some sort of sense, from how Aunt Cass had explained Tadashi.

            ...Could Tadashi breathe fire, too?

            Hiro stood for a few more seconds, staring at the chair before pulling out his phone, belatedly realizing the rough itch in his throat had vanished. He selected a number and waited a few rings as the call went through.

            “Hey, Fred.”

...

            “Nah, Everything’s fine.”

...

            “Yeah, just a quick question. What have you got on fire breathing?”

 


 

 

            Meanwhile, another phone call was going on as Himitsu leaned against the wall of the safe house.

            “That close, huh?”

            Himitsu spoke into the phone as he considered the fact that the group knew where the island was. The voice on the other side of the was inaudible.

            “...Yeah, yeah, I get it’s kinda serious. I-”

...

            “We j’st won’t hold ‘im fer as long. Pass ‘im over ta Yama sooner, no big.”

...

            “Yeah, I know... Speakin’ a Jadoku... we’re gonna have ta be more ‘onest with ‘im.”

....

            “But yer askin’ fer loyalty with nothin’ ta base on.”

...

            “Wakatteru.”

...

            “That’s my choice, isn’t it?”

...

            “I know what I’m doing.”

...

            “Bye, Taishou-sama.” Himitsu rolled his eyes, knowing he couldn’t be seen and hung up.

Chapter Text

            Despite the events of the previous night, Hiro found himself going through the tedious motions of setting up the cafe the next morning, waiting for Fred to arrive. His question had sparked a slew of others in response, some easier to answer than others. Fred had wanted to know everything. In fact, most of the phone call had consisted of Fred switching between asking rapid-fire questions, many of which Hiro had no answer to, and geeking out about not only knowing one, but two people with actual, real-life super powers. After an hour or so of babbling, he'd promised to get back to him with the results of his unique brand of research in the morning.

            Hiro might as well have stayed on the phone with him for all the sleep he got. After multiple failed attempts to shut down his brain, he realized sleep was futile, and dedicated his waking hours to creating the initial design for a helmet for Tadashi. He didn't have all of the materials he wanted to use in the final product, and he’d made a mental note to grab them when he could. There wasn't much of a rush; Tadashi was not taking flight again anytime soon. There was no reason to have it high on the priority list with all of the insanity already occurring.

            Yawning widely, Hiro unpacked the box that he’d missed sitting near the porch the night before. It contained the necessary memory chip for the register, and he quickly switched it out for the old one.

            I need to just design a better register.

            It wouldn’t be difficult, but he’d wait a while to do so. Kyouji had just gotten used to using the original one, and with... Ara? Yeah, that was her name... coming in, it’d be best to leave things as they were. 

            Half-heartedly tossing the cardboard in the recycle bin, Hiro glanced around the mostly ready café, checking the time on the large clock above the register. It was odd that Kyouji hadn’t arrived yet. He wasn’t late, but he’d been coming in earlier than this most days.

            Hiro shrugged, dropping down into one of the chairs to think. He’d had Baymax scan him in between brainstorming ideas for the helmet, which would need to be completely fireproof so it didn’t melt to his brother, and his fourth attempt at sleep. Hiro mentally berated himself for ignoring the robot’s words earlier; he’d thought it was just a cold. He rubbed at his throat, glad the itch was gone, even as he was wary of the results. But the mechanics of it all made sense-

            Startling out of his thoughts at the sound of the café door opening, Hiro had to remind himself that people couldn’t find out just because he was thinking about it. It was one thing with Tadashi, where his abilities had to be activated, and therefore could be concealed or suppressed. His situation was a bit different, and potentially more dangerous.

            Kyouji made his way inside, movements sluggish as he shrugged a rather old looking backpack off his shoulders. He began to hang the bag on one of the pegs near the door, but hesitated. Hiro assumed he didn’t want to leave it somewhere it could get easily picked up. There had been a couple items disappear from the café before, and some people were more careful about their things than others.

            “Hey, you can leave it in the back, you know.” Hiro gestured behind the counter, towards the supply room.

            Kyouji looked up, nodding in acknowledgement as he made his way over in silence. The younger male watched as he disappeared from view, the pack hanging from his hand loosely, as he was barely holding onto it.

            Hiro frowned lightly once the redhead was out of sight. Sure, it was in essence a Monday, even though the calendar said Sunday, but usually you greeted someone when you first walked in... not that he had either, but he’d been preoccupied. Whatever, it was early.

            Hiro stretched, hearing a few pops. He pulled himself out of the chair, checking his phone to see if Fred was on his way. So far, no notice. Not that Hiro could leave until he’d at least started Ara on her task.

            The first hour or so was borderline awkward. Once the single regular customer for early Sunday mornings had been served, there wasn’t much to do. To make things worse, Kyouji responded only when spoken to, and even though he wasn’t usually one to initiate chatter, conversations that Hiro started were stilted.

            “So... you do anything fun yesterday?”

            Kyouji folded his arms, leaning back on a counter. “Not really.”

            The response had been somewhat expected. He didn’t seem the type to do anything particularly exciting in his spare time. When the question was returned out of politeness, Hiro had to quickly filter the day through the ‘normal person’ screen.

            “Oh, we- uh, well, we went to visit Aunt Cass. She’s doing better, a lot better, but they don’t want to let her come home yet.” Hiro shrugged. “Hospitals, you know? Anyway, we also went to the park- Teddy tried out his new bike and the rest of us just sorta chilled.” He shrugged again, trying to appear nonchalant.

            Kyouji simply nodded quietly, pushing the hair that fell in front of his eyes out of his face. Hiro wondered if he could tell that he was keeping something from him, but couldn’t do much to fix it. It wasn’t like he had to tell Kyouji, either. Why was he worried?

            The two fell into silence, Hiro checking his phone periodically for the message from Fred as Kyouji went through the basic tasks mechanically, hardly making a noise at all as he worked. It was a little unsettling, and Hiro wondered if it wasn’t just fatigue or the fact that it was still earlier than most of the population considered getting up on the weekend.

            Watching Kyouji’s unchanging expression, Hiro weighed whether it was even a good idea to leave him there when Fred arrived. He hadn’t exactly warned him... But Ara was supposed to come in, and Sundays were typically slow... Kyouji’d be fine...

            “Hello, hello.” Ara waved from the doorway, easily making her way over to the counter, smiling at the two. She glanced around the café. “I’m not late, am I?”

            Hiro shook his head. “Nope. Little early, actually.” He chuckled amiably at that. “Not that that’s a problem. Oh, and I got your paperwork through the email, I just never got around to responding. Everything’s good.”

            “Oh, good.” The concern that had begun to grow on her face evaporated. “I wouldn’t want to mess up on my first day.”  

            “We wouldn’t blame you,” Hiro turned to Kyouji, who was staring at a space on the counter in front of him, arms tucked in front of himself. “Would we?”

            “Hm?” Kyouji looked up. “Oh, no. Not at all.”

            Ara laughed lightly. “Welcome back, space cadet.”

            “Sorry.” He let his arms fall to his sides, smiling wryly. “Didn’t get a lot of sleep.”

            She waved away the apology. “No big.  Just me trying to be funny.”

            “Right...”

            Hiro looked between the two, before rubbing the back of his neck. “Anyway, we’re gonna be trying something new today.”

            “Well, everything’s new for me, so...” Ara shrugged, smiling gently.

            Kyouji simply inclined his head, waiting for Hiro to speak.

            “Okay, well the thing is, I’ve got things I need to do today, and as soon as Wasabi gets here to pick up Teddy, and Fred arrives, I’ve gotta go.” Hiro let his words spill out in a rush, ignoring the small script he’d mentally pieced together before either had arrived. “I know this is very last minute and I know it’s your first day, Ara, but like, Kyouji can help, and you learn best by teaching or something like that, so...“

            Hiro trailed off, but when neither responded, surprised and waiting for him to continue, he cleared his throat and attempted to exude certainty, or at least confidence that things wouldn’t go too badly. “Sundays normally are pretty slow until lunch time. The most important thing is getting things stocked before then, since most stuff can’t carry over from Friday.”

            Ara looked a little nervous, but nodded, deciding she could work with that. Kyouji didn’t appear as convinced.

            “Are you sure? I mean, yeah, we can, but I mean...”

            Hiro nodded. “Yeah, it’ll be fine. I’ll be back sometime this afternoon. Wasabi’s got class at 3, so I gotta pick up Teddy by then- not that he’d mind sitting through it, but it’s not the best idea.”

            “He’s got more patience than most college students, then.” Ara giggled, picturing a little five year old paying more attention than the actual students of the class. “Gogo’s mentioned the kind of classes Wasabi takes, I don’t think I could stand it.”

            This made Hiro chuckle. Grad school was an entirely different beast than undergraduate, and even Wasabi admitted to days of fuzz-brain, where nothing stuck.

            “Oh! Before I forget.” Hiro dug around in his jacket pocket and pulled out his phone. “Just in case something goes wrong, I’ll give you guys my number, and I’ll have yours in case I need to let you know anything.”

            Ara happily rattled hers off, quickly receiving the confirmation text from Hiro. Kyouji hesitated.

            “I don’t have my phone with me right now, and I don’t know the number off the top of my head.” Kyouji brushed his bangs out of his face, looking away. “Sorry- I didn’t think I’d need it. A-and I hardly ever use it...”

            “No, no, it’s okay.” Hiro tore a piece of paper off the notebook left by the register, scribbling down a string of digits. He folded it once and passed the paper to Kyouji. “We can just use Ara’s to communicate for today, but here’s mine in case it slips my mind later. I’m a little scatterbrained right now, if you haven’t noticed.”

            “I’d never have guessed.” Kyouji slipped the paper into his pocket with a small smile. “Thanks.”

            “Yeah, no problem.” Hiro turned to the door when it swung open wildly.

            “Hey dudes! Oh, and dudette!” Fred made his way over with barely contained excitement. But his manner wasn’t the most apparent thing about him.

            “Way to send that message like you said you would.” Hiro stifled a laugh once Fred got closer. “Dude, you look like a lobster!”

            Fred had not been let off easily of his forgetfulness the day before. His visible skin was various shades of pink and red, splotching harshly on his cheeks to show where the sun had hit the hardest. He winced as he adjusted his beanie out of habit, the brim brushing against his irritated forehead. He laughed.

            “My bad. And yeah, man, guess the sun just loves me too much. It’s cool, I’ve had worse.”

            “Or hates you.” Hiro shook his head. “Honey Lemon had sunscreen if you’d bothered to ask.”

            “You’ll excuse me for forgetting.” Fred attempted a haughty manner, but quickly dropped back into his more casual way of speaking. “Besides, I’d have had to apply it over and over, with how long I was in the sun. First the island, then the park, I’m surprised I’m not more toasted.”

            Hiro carefully avoided reacting to Fred’s mention of the island, which he’d purposefully left out, but Kyouji didn’t seem to notice... or react, at least.

            “Did you at least put something on it? To help with swelling, that is.” Ara chimed in, eyebrows drawn together in concern. “It looks pretty serious.”

            “Nah, it’s not that bad.” Fred shrugged it off. “One time, I turned purple. Now, that sounds cool, but trust me, you do not want to let it get that bad. I have permanent freckles from when I was eight.”

            “Aren’t most freckles permanent?” Hiro checked his cell when a small, edited clip of ‘Sail’ played. Wasabi about to leave, and only lived a short distance away. He’d better make sure Tadashi was ready. “Just wait until it’s time for that to peel. You’re going to look like a lizard.”

            Fred laughed outright, following Hiro towards the back room. “I prefer the term ‘Kaiju’. I shall become the mascot: Roar!

            “Wait, do lizards, er-Kaiju’s even shed?” Hiro’s voice was barely audible from the stairs.

            “Wow, Hiro-“ Fred’s laughter drowned out any reply, and they could no longer be heard in the café.

            Ara laughed at their banter, turning back towards the counter to start her first day. “Well, that-“ She frowned when she caught sight of Kyouji. “What’s wrong?”

            "Hm?" Kyouji looked up, glancing over at Ara. "Nothing. This is my resting face."

            "Okay..."

 


 

            Tadashi fumbled with the seat belt, trying to get it to fit through the newly purchased booster seat properly. He just couldn’t quite reach where he needed it to go.

            Wasabi allowed him to try, but reached over when it became apparent that he wouldn’t be able to get it buckled properly. “No shame, little man. You’ll get there.”

            “You guys good?” Hiro called from where he and Fred were waiting with the car. The one Fred had bought himself, in order to blend in better, was far less extravagant than a limo would be, and allowed him to take longer trips on his own, without having to make sure the route was long board accessible. They could have left first, but Hiro wanted to see Tadashi off safely, and was glad that Wasabi was the one watching him today, with recent events still weighing on his mind.

            “Yep, we got it!” Wasabi called back, slipping into the drivers seat after closing the side door to the van.

            “Alright, see you later!” Hiro watched them pull out from in front of the café, laughing a little to himself. “I wonder how baby-proofed Wasabi’s made his apartment.”

            “He is Wasabi.” Fred looked through his keychain until he found the bright red key, which was more difficult than it sounded, as each key had its own color scheme, with various mixtures of black and red strewn throughout.

            “True, you can always trust him to be extra cautious. I’ll just have to ask Teddy later.”

            “Yeah, for sure.”

            All of the group’s joking aside, Fred was an excellent driver, even if every now and then he took more risks than he probably should have, and was fond of messing with other drivers.

            “Hey, wanna blast classical music out the window to confuse people?” Fred grinned, reaching for the radio.

            Hiro chuckled, “Sure, why not?” The lightheartedness was a nice distraction from the thoughts that had been weighing on his mind.

            “Alrighty, let’s see...” He flipped through a couple similar sounding stations before settling on one with some fast-paced string sounds and amping up the volume. “Yeah, man! Paganini’s my jam!”

            “Paga-who?” Hiro had to raise his voice over the music.

            “So uncultured...” Fred ducked his head, shaking it in disappointment.

            “Eyes on the road!”

            “Relax, it’s fine.” Fred resumed normal driving practices. He had to speak louder to be heard over the strings as they started up again. “I’m surprised Teddy didn’t insist on coming! How’d you manage that?”

            “Well...” Hiro rubbed the back of his head. “I... may have failed to mention what we were doing... or anything we talked about last night.”

            “Dude!”

            Hiro held up his hands imploringly. “I will eventually. I’d like to have a handle on things before I answer a ton of questions.”

            “Okay, man.” Fred shrugged. “It’s about you this time, so your choice, I guess.”

            Hiro nodded, turning to watch out the window for the remainder of the trip.

 


 

            Fred had changed into his super suit, the most fire-resistant thing he owned, and was in the process of physically bouncing off the walls as he lead Hiro to the area the team had practiced their new tech five years before.

            “Too bad we couldn’t use this place for Teddy.” Fred remarked, launching higher with each jump once they were outside.

            “It’s a good thing we didn’t, he could have hit something on the way down.” Hiro crossed his arms, looking around at the pillars and statues that made up Fred’s yard.     

            “True.” Fred turned towards Hiro. “Okay, so I’ve got some theories, but I need more info, so spill. You did get Baymax to scan you, right?”

            “Yeah...” He rubbed the back of his neck, thinking of where to start. “Well, let’s see... You know about the fire thing, duh, that’s why we’re here, um... The temperature thing is different from Teddy’s, at least for now.”

            Hiro folded his arms, leaning against one of the pillars. “It’s centered in my chest, you know, near my heart and lungs. Baymax thinks I’ll be resistant to heat too, but it’s just a guess. I don’t want to test that out right now, but it’d be something good to know down the road... and, um...”

            Why was the next part harder to get out? It didn’t make sense, the other things, both with Tadashi and himself were just as strange, if not stranger, but Hiro guessed it was because it wasn’t so much an ability as it was something permanent... possibly.

            “Well, you know how my throat was bothering me? Or maybe you didn’t, I don’t know how obvious I made it, but anyway- uh. Like you can’t really see them super well, since they’re a dark red like the back of your throat should be, but they’re there, and I think they are supposed to shield my throat from the fire itself, or maybe just give it something to bounce off of-“

            “Hiro, slow down.” Fred held up a hand, chuckling lightly. “You’re rambling, dude. What are you talking about? C’mon, man, I’m not psychic.”

            “Um-“ Hiro laughed, partially at himself and partly from nerves. “Why is this so hard? It’s you, you’re not going to be weirded out or anything. Or maybe you will be, but that’s a good thing for you. Anyway, uh- so, the entirety of my inner throat is coated in scales.” He lifted his hands, doing unenthusiastic jazz hands. “Ta-da.”

            “Wait, really?” Fred lifted his uniform’s helmet, moving closer. “Let me see, let me see! How the-“

            “Any closer and I will breathe on you.” Hiro moved his hands in front of him to stop Fred’s ignorance of personal boundaries.

            Fred laughed, taking a small step back. “Means something different when you can breathe fire. But dude, that’s sick!”

             “Yeah, well like I said, they’d be hard to see. Especially without a light or something.”

            “Okay, man. But you’ve got to send me a pic or something. Do you think it’ll spread elsewhere?”

            “Hell, I hope not.” Hiro crossed his arms, considering the possibility.

             Fred continued on, not addressing Hiro’s statement. “Well, I guess that rules out the Khalkotauroi and the Chimera, although Chimera are primarily female, but so are Phoenixes in Japanese mythology, so I mean-“

            “The what?” Hiro knew the word Chimera, but the first one was Greek to him.

            “The Khalkotauroi? Giant bronze-lined bulls that breathe fire.” Fred nodded to himself, certain of his conclusion and fighting to keep his grin from splitting his face. “You know what this leaves, right?”

            “Um...” Hiro’s brain was lagging with the lack of sleep, and the billion other things he had to mentally juggle in the past weeks.

            “Oh, come on, Hiro!” Fred was practically jumping up and down at this point. “You’re looking at a representation of one! Fire-breathing creature with scales? You’re part dragon!”

 


 

             “Um! Is it supposed to be doing this?”

            Kyouji looked over from where he was taking the order of a rather impatient customer to see Ara struggling to stop what he’d mentally dubbed ‘Satan the Unreliable Piece of Trash’ or ‘Stupot’ for short... he had too much time to think on his hands. The machine had decided the off button was a suggestion, and that the customer needed far more of their beverage than they’d asked for.

            “Hold on.” Kyouji walked away from the customer, doing his best to ignore the irate response it earned him. Good. Maybe he’ll leave now.

            Actively avoiding the boiling liquid, Kyouji switched the machine’s output to water and turned the temperature knob as low as it would go, before attempting to get the machine to stop again. There was a slight delay as the machine processed the changes, but once again it ended up listening, giving only a few more spurts of water before shutting off.

            Relief was clearly visible on Ara’s face. “Thanks, I don’t know what happened. It just started-“ She gestured to the entire machine.

            “It’s fine, I’m pretty sure it’s possessed.” Kyouji was trying to figure out how to clean up the extremely hot water and coffee combination without getting scalded, and all he was coming up with was just letting it sit for a little bit, but that might stain. “Hiro’s had trouble before, too. What were you making?”

            Ara chuckled. “Possessed is probably right. I was making…” She looked down at the small notebook in her hand. “A whole milk white chocolate mocha with whipped cream.”

            “Alright, I think that can be made on the machine at the other end. Um…” Kyouji looked at the size cup that had been used, debating on whether it could be moved safely, as it was too large to easily dump into another cup. “Someone wanted that much of that?”

            “It’s what they asked for.” Ara shrugged. 20 oz didn’t seem like that much to her. “I guess I’ll-“

            “Excuse me.” The male customer, who looked somewhere in his late forties, seemed ready to do something drastic, pressing a single curled fist into the counter. “If you don’t mind, some of us have important things to do.”

            “Just a minute, sir.” Kyouji used one of the coffee sleeves to hold the cup steady while getting a lid on it to transport the majority of the unspilled liquid to the small drain. He could feel the biting heat through the small piece of cardboard, and felt no small measure of relief when the scalding liquid disappeared down the drain.

            Double checking his hands quickly, Kyouji returned to the counter, keeping a semi-safe distance between the angry customer and himself. “Okay, what was it you-“

            “No. You know what? This is unacceptable, I want to speak to the manager.” The man folded his arms, leaning back and managing to look both smug and angry at the same time. “You kids are wasting my time.”

            Kid?

            “He’s not in right now.” And you’re wasting more time than I am. “If you’ll-“

            “I. Demand. To see. The manager. Now. Un-der-stand?”

            Is this guy real? What is he trying to imply?

            “Wakaru.” Okay brain, I know you’re tired, but maybe don’t antagonize the guy-

            “What did you just call me?”

            Kyouji took a step back from the counter, wishing the guy would just storm out and get it over with. “Didn’t call you anything.”

            “Now you listen here, I’m not about to let some punk ruin my Thanksgiving vacation, and I demand to see-“

            “Actually,” Ara stepped towards the counter, putting the previous customer’s finished order in the pick-up area, pupils thinned to slits. “Kyouji here is acting manager until Hiro returns, so any issues would need to be resolved through him. Unless you want to wait until Hiro gets back, in, oh… another three or four hours…”

            Oh. Right.

            The man’s face contorted, and he pushed away from the counter, making his way to the door as he muttered about wasting his time.

            “Have a nice day!” Ara called out to him in a friendly tone.

            The man failed to slam the door behind him due to the hydraulic hinge, and he spared it a glare before continuing down the street in a huff.

            No laughing. Sleep deprivation does not give you an excuse to be totally unprofessional.

            Ara turned her back towards the shop, rolling her eyes, which had returned to normal, with a grin. Kyouji had to cover a laugh with a small cough.

            Professional. I can do that.  

            The café was fairly quiet after that, with only a couple customers working on laptops or reading. The person who’d ordered the large mocha was practically shaking from the sugar intake. After cleaning up the then room temperature coffee, Kyouji and Ara worked in relative silence, doing minor tasks as Kyouji’s energy levels dropped again when the adrenalin wore off from the confrontation.

            When there was pretty much nothing left to do, with the pastries cooking in the oven, Ara spoke up.

            “So, tell me a little more about yourself.” She leaned against the countertop, fiddling with her wristbands. “I remember some things from high school, but you were always a little… reserved.”

            “I really don’t remember much of high school.” Kyouji avoided the question as well as he could, brushing his bangs out of his face. “It was mostly a blur, and a waste of time anyway.”

            “I could tell you were definitely invested in the classes.”

            It took Kyouji a second to register her sarcasm, but when it did, he smiled wryly. “Why invest in something that’s not going to help in the long run?”

            “Hmm.” Ara frowned, crossing her arms. “It might’ve.”

            Kyouji shook his head tiredly. He didn’t want to argue the point, since there were key factors she couldn’t know. “Some things were interesting to learn, but it was mostly useless information. Just something to do to pass the time. Success was suspicious, and it wasn’t worth it, really.”

            “Suspicious?” She tilted her head. “How do you mean?”

            “Um? Unbelievable? I mean, probably my fault, but after a bit of not trying, er, years really, I got it in my head that it might be worth it?” He shrugged, pulling at the sleeve of his jacket. “I was wrong. The material wasn’t that hard, but the sudden change in my score clearly meant cheating. And that- came with its own problems, so I mean... why bother?”

            “I- don’t agree. I think I get it, but...” Ara adjusted the wristband on her arm, lifting it slightly away from the skin and letting the elastic snap it back. “If you could, I think you still should have tried.”

            “Maybe, but it’s a little late now.” Kyouji turned to move a couple of pastries from the pan in the oven to the cooling rack, unconvinced.

            She laughed lightly. “Little bit.”

            “Yeah-“ Kyouji cut himself off, looking over at the door when the bells jingled. After a second of processing, his eyes widened in surprise. 

            ...What? Why is he-

            “Um, hey Ara, could you take this to the back?” Kyouji held up the then empty pan, glancing at the approaching figure. He might not want her present for this. “Please?”      

            “O-kay?” Ara took the pan and a couple of recently returned dirty mugs, making her way towards the wash station in the back, looking over her shoulder curiously before disappearing.

            “Hey, Kyou!” Himitsu greeted him, leaning against the counter.

            The hell did you just call me?

            "What are you doing here?" Kyouji looked around the café, checking the possible audience for the conversation. He had no idea where this was going to go, but he didn’t think Himitsu was stupid. Then again, discreteness wasn’t his concern. He could pretty much do as he pleased, and Kyouji would have to cover anything out of place. Thankfully, the café had emptied out for the most part, save for the sole customer listening to headphones in the corner, typing away on a small laptop.

            "Don't be so cold, damn." Himitsu chuckled, shaking his head. “Ya go on break anytime soon?”

            "No." Kyouji started to take apart the pen he’d picked up, before realizing what he was doing and put it back together. He quietly placed it back on the barrier between them, not knowing what to do with his hands.

            "Don't ya need to stop for lunch or somethin'?"

            "Already did." Answered that too quickly... Kyouji barely kept from outwardly wincing. In truth, he hadn’t eaten yet that day, and it wasn’t helping him maintain his brain-to-mouth filters.

            Himitsu paused for a moment, looking at him carefully before grinning slightly. "No ya haven’t. You’re shakin’, and just so ya know, ya suck at lyin’. Maybe you should stick ta half-truths.”

            “I’m not shak-“ Kyouji looked at his hand, and sure enough, it was shaking ever so slightly. He clenched it into a fist, letting it fall to his side as he looked down and away. "...doesn't mean I have a break."

            “Well, ya need ta eat somethin’, why don’t ya just-“ Himitsu cut off when another person entered the café, checking to see who it was before turning back to the counter. “Anyway-“

            “Um, you’re going to need to order something, or get out of the way.” Kyouji folded his arms. At least he had store policy to fall back on.

            Himitsu raised his eyebrows at that, but went to sit at one of the tables by the window without a fuss, pulling out his phone and beginning to work on it.

            After filling the relatively simple order, Kyouji took the dishes of the previous customer to the back. Ara was leaning against the sink area, drying a cup and facing the doorway when he came in.

            “So, who was that?” Ara asked teasingly.

            "No one..." Kyouji deposited the dishes in the sink, before realizing the water was too deep to retrieve them from without rolling up his sleeves or getting them wet. Great.

            Ara hummed, nodding sagely. She made her way out the door, patting Kyouji’s shoulder on the way out. Kyouji rolled up his right sleeve first, giving her time to leave completely, before starting on the other. He was so focused on keeping the state of his left arm hidden that it took him until she was completely gone to register the strangeness of what had just happened.

            Wait, what?

 


 

            “Okay, Fred, tone it down a bit, there’s obviously an explanation.” Hiro tried to reason, but he couldn’t come up with anything logical. There was also the mystery of his brother’s own changes, but it was a lot easier to write it off when it was someone else. Why was this showing up now, anyway?

            “No, dude, it makes sense!” Fred hopped in place, clapping his hands together. “Not that I know where it comes from, but you can’t deny it works!”

            “That-“ Hiro crossed his arms, recalling what his aunt had told him in the hospital. Could the alterations have been strong enough to pass to him? “But if what I know about why Teddy’s the way he is is true, why would mine be so different?”

            Fred shrugged, having to use his arms as well to convey the gesture through the giant suit. “I’m sure there’s a way to find out, but come on, I want to see some fire breathing!”

            “Yeah, yeah.” Hiro glanced around, looking for a target of some kind. Not that he really knew how to aim, but he could at least point his mouth at it?

            Fred flipped his mask portion back down, following Hiro until he stopped in front of a pillar with vines crawling up the side.

            “This’ll do.”

            Hiro tried to think of what had triggered the feeling before, and the anxiety and protectiveness that came to mind were dangerously easy to dredge up again. He felt a low burn and tightness in his chest, but he was uncertain of how to release it. Hiro breathed in as deeply as he could, forcing too much air into his lungs so that he was forced to cough reflexively.

            He heard a small click he hadn’t noticed before following the cough, and flames erupted from his mouth, continuing for as long as he was able to breathe out. The fire ate up the green vines, leaving a gaping hole in the design they’d made growing up the pillar, and the white rock was left with discernable scorch marks. Hiro panted to catch his breath as Fred applauded from the side.

            “Dude! Dude! Did you see that? Of course you did, you did it, but ah!” Fred did a little dance of excitement. “That was so cool! How did you do it?”

            Hiro’s tongue felt a little numb, but there were seemingly no negative effects from spewing fire hot enough to scorch stone out of his mouth. He cleared his throat, looking at the damage he’d caused just by breathing.

            “I just... did? It’s just breathing, but under pressure.” Hiro frowned. “And if that’s the case... there’s not really a way to block it.”

            Fred tilted back the mask again, letting it hang loosely. “Well, no I guess not, unless you don’t need to breathe anymore. Do you?”

            After a couple of seconds of not breathing in, Hiro felt the call for air, but was careful when fulfilling it, not wanting to set off another spark. “Nope. Still need it. Guess that means I need to learn to control it.”

 


 

            “Careful not to pour in too much.” Wasabi caught the edge of the bag of mulch, tugging on it so that Tadashi didn’t overfill the planter again.

            “Sorry.” Tadashi still overestimated his strength at times, and even with a mostly empty bag, he struggled to keep it steady. Wasabi wasn’t quite as picky about his garden as he was about, say for instance, his work station. That didn’t mean he wasn’t still particular.

            “Alright, little man, that’s the last one.” Wasabi brushed off his hands, rolling up the top of the bag and placing a clip on it before sliding it into the garden supplies’ designated space. “With colder weather coming, this should keep them from getting too stressed when left out on the balcony.”

            “Hmm.” Tadashi looked at the plants, healthy from what he knew about how they should look, but he couldn’t be completely sure. He’d never been a plant expert. “Hey, Wasabi.”

            “What’s up?”

            "I was wondering if the tears would have an effect on plants..." Tadashi tilted his head, peering closer at the green shoots. “Or animals. Any organic being, really.”

            “I don’t know, sounds like something to be tested out, to me.” Wasabi settled in a chair, straightening his back after being stooped over so long to work on the planters.

            “Maybe I can talk to Hiro about it when he and Fred finish... whatever they’re doing.”

            “Yeah, what’s up with that? Not that I mind hanging out with you, not at all, I just wasn’t expecting Hiro to let you out of his sight any time soon.” Wasabi chuckled.

            “I mean... they left in a hurry… And Fred seemed really excited, um, more than normal...” Tadashi trailed off, trying to piece his thoughts together into something coherent, but failed to understand what was going on. He shrugged. “Who knows?”

             “Well, I dunno, buddy. I’m sure you can ask when you get back.” Wasabi checked the clock. “I don’t have class until three, so what do you want to do in the hour or so before Hiro comes to get you?”

            “Is Mythbusters still on Netflix?”

            “You bet it is.” Wasabi began to set up the tv area, flipping to the Netflix menu and selecting it from Recently Watched. “You can never get enough of this.”


 

            “Ugh, that’s enough for one day.” Hiro was sitting on the ground, exhausted and feeling the hunger pangs tear through his stomach.

            As they had continued into the afternoon, the fires he could produce had been getting smaller and smaller, as if he was running out of fuel. He’d also put off lunch for far too long.

            “I’m hungry.”

            “Hey, man. You were the one that didn’t want to take a break when I suggested stopping to eat.” Fred laughed, shedding his suit so that he was left only in his day clothes. “You worked right through lunch.”

            "Food." Hiro flopped back, lying in the grass, and not wanting to get up.

            "Yeah, yeah come on. Heathcliff has sandwiches and stuff already made."

            “What time is it?” Hiro rolled over onto his stomach, forcing himself to stand from there.

            “Almost two?” Fred checked his watch. “Yep. Five ‘til two.”

            “Right. Quick meal, then we go pick up Teddy.”

            “Sounds like a plan.”

 


 

            Hiro waved goodbye to Fred, leading Tadashi through the doors of the café. He’d gotten to Wasabi’s with thirty minutes to spare before three, but he probably should have shown up earlier, if only to allow Wasabi more time to get to class. Oh well, he’d make it.

            “Go ahead and find something to do upstairs, Teddy.” Hiro ruffled his brother’s hair, ignoring the eye-roll as Tadashi pulled away and made his way towards the back room and to the main of the house.

            Nothing seemed destroyed at Hiro’s first glance, and Ara and Kyouji were talking quietly as he approached the counter. Kyouji didn’t look any livelier than he had that morning, and Hiro empathized. He was ready to just shoo everyone out and hibernate, himself.

            “So, how’d everything go?” Hiro rested his hands on the counter, able to see from this distance that things were well stocked and there weren’t a large number of stray dishes waiting to be taken to the back. Seemed pretty okay to him.

            Kyouji looked over from shaking his head at something Ara’d said before Hiro had entered the range at which he could hear them. “Okay, I guess. A couple of issues, but nothing major.”

            “I thought I’d broken the possessed machine.” Ara laughed guiltily, pointing at the particular troublemaker.

            Hiro shook his head. “It would pick today to act up.”

            “Of course.” Kyouji’s attention was drawn to an approaching customer, who was returning a small coffee cup unnecessarily. Customers could, and usually did, leave them on the tables to be collected later. Hiro was about to say something when the customer spoke up.

            “This mean ya can go on lunch break now?” The young man casually addressed Kyouji, making it fairly obvious he knew him. Hiro’s thoughts, however, caught more on what he said.

            “You didn’t take one?” Hiro asked Kyouji, astonished to hear this. He rapidly tried to recall if he’d told either of them that they could take a break. He hadn’t. Oops.

            “Um...” Kyouji had suddenly become very interested in the floor in front of him, the answer more than a little obvious.

            Hiro pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling terrible for forgetting to tell them. "Geez, yeah. Go ahead. You can grab something from the back, or-"

            "Nah, I got it." The man who’d approached the counter smiled easily. "C'mon, Kyou."

            Kyouji hesitated momentarily, but nodded, making his way from behind the counter to leave with him.

            "Don't be gone too long, or at least check back in before closing." Hiro called out to him before he reached the door. Kyouji nodded again, waving behind him.

            When the café door swung closed, Hiro turned to Ara. “You too, obviously. I can hold down the fort long enough for you to get something, if you want.”

            “I packed a sandwich that I ate earlier during a lull, but think I’ll grab something here, if you don’t mind.” She smiled, pointing at one of the treats in the display. “I’ve been wanting to try one of those since they came out of the oven.”
            
             “Yeah, of course, go ahead.”

            While Ara was sampling the pastry, Hiro cleaned up a little, glad that things had gone so well that day. Things really were easier when you had someone you could trust to watch things in your place. He should have hired some people before.

            “Oh, that reminds me.” Hiro muttered to himself as he dug around in the back for a small black book that he’d set aside for recording work times. He might as well start the pay periods for Ara and Kyouji on the same day, so he’d just go ahead and pay Kyouji what he’d already earned. It’d make it easier than trying to deal with it later.

            Besides. Hiro felt slightly guilty at the thought, even though he meant no harm by it. He probably needs the money.

Chapter Text

            “Could ya have made that any harder?”

            “Could you have been more suspicious?” Kyouji crossed his arms, frowning over at Himitsu as they walked, a step behind the taller male as Himitsu led them who knows where. He ignored the pain tugging at his stomach with practiced ease. He’d gone longer without food; his stomach was just spoiled from the previous week.

            Why was he here...

            Himitsu laughed, glancing back at him. “’ey, I wasn’t the one actin’ suspicious. Ya handled that all on yer own.”

            “Well, I didn’t know what you were going to say.” Kyouji ran a hand through his hair in agitation, sighing before shoving his hands into his pockets, rolling the single remaining syringe in his left hand. He was certainly calmer when he didn’t have to worry about any of the others listening in, but the residual nerves had him jittery.

            “Oh, c’mon, Kyou-“

            Kyouji tensed. “Don’t call me that.”

            “Hm?” Himitsu frowned, stopping and turning to look at him. He laughed shortly, replacing the displeased look with smirk. “An’ why not? Weren’t ya just complainin’ about being too suspicious? Maybe when we go back, I’ll just say ‘Bye, Jadoku’ real loud. Let ya explain that ta them.”

           “Don’t.” Some, if not all, of the people there could translate that—not that they’d know right away what it implied, but it was the principle of the thing. “Seriously, don’t.”

            Himitsu lifted his hands in a placating manner. “I won’t, asenna-yo.” He chuckled lightly. “Trust me a li’l more than that.”

            Kyouji scoffed. He already had mixed thoughts about what he’d figured out two nights prior, but admittedly, the information he’d been given about the box had been useful... if it were true. Kyouji wasn’t sure what to think, but he supposed it was better to play it on the safe side. In all honesty, Himitsu’s involvement wasn’t even really a problem; they were on the same side, after all, but...

            “Whatever.” Kyouji continued walking, not sure where he was going, but knowing Himitsu would continue when he did, and would change the course if he was going the wrong way.

            He couldn’t sort out his thoughts. On the one hand, having someone in on this that he was familiar with, and who was familiar with him (in more ways than he’d thought previously), could prove useful- and already had, in part. But on the other hand, this whole situation was becoming increasingly complicated, and trying to measure up to the accountability on both sides was becoming a headache he didn’t want to deal with.

            It had been easier when Himitsu was just a supplier, someone impartial to whatever was going on so long as he got his payment. Now Kyouji felt like he had to be more careful about his actions around him. Though Himitsu’s attitude made it natural to respond casually in the moment, a little nagging voice in the back of his head made Kyouji wonder if he’d said something he shouldn’t have in this conversation or even a previous one. He couldn’t remember that far back, and if every action and word had been basically monitored... where did he stand right now?

            Well, he thought as they continued on their way, Himitsu naturally taking the lead, I’m not dead yet, so I can’t have screwed up too badly.

            “So, ya seemed pretty busy in there.”

            Kyouji shook his head, both in response to the statement and to clear his mind. Overthinking it would only make things worse, and besides, Himitsu was too relaxed about things to care if he didn’t say exactly what he should. He hoped.

            “Not really, today was kind of slow. You missed the most exciting part.”

            “Ya mean it wasn’t me comin’ ta visit?” Himitsu placed a hand over his heart, his grin undermining his next words. “I’m hurt, I really am.”

            Kyouji rolled his eyes, unable to help the grin at the theatrics. This guy made it really difficult to stay guarded around him... which was probably his intention. Oh well, at least it gave him something safe to talk about.

            “Yeah, I’m afraid you got beaten out by a demon machine plus an old white guy throwing a hissy when he wasn’t catered to exactly how he wanted.”

            “Now that’s not a very nice thing ta say.” Himitsu joked, stepping down from the curb to cross the street while it was semi-empty.

            Kyouji followed after, keeping track of what part of the city they were in, just in case. “I’ve never claimed to be nice.”

            “Yeah, ya couldn’t lie that well.”

            “I can when I need to.” Kyouji crossed his arms.

            “One can hope, with what ya need to do.” Himitsu shrugged. “But I guess you don’t need ta lie so long as they don’t ask you directly.” Shaking his head, he chuckled. “Ya picked the most difficult way ta do this, there really was no reason ta take it this far with ‘em.”

            “Can we... not do this again?” Kyouji snapped.

            Regardless of what it started as, the conversation almost always circled back to this, and Kyouji was certain Himitsu did it on purpose. There wasn’t another response to give or new thing to say about it, and the topic was grating on his nerves, the future possibilities and certainties cycling through his mind and giving him a headache. He didn’t want to think about what would eventually happen, and Himitsu reminding him every other day was not at all helpful.

            Kyouji shook his head in irritation. “Why are you even here?” He didn’t expect a straight answer, but at least the question was out there instead of occupying his mind.

            “Already forgot? We’re gonna go eat.” Himitsu said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “And then I’ve got somethin’ ta talk to ya about.”

            There it was. “If this is going to be another lecture, I’ll pass.” Kyouji stopped walking. There was nothing Himitsu could say further on it that he hadn’t already heard. “I’ll just go back now.”

            “Matte, matte, it won’t be, I swear.” Himitsu turned towards him, lifting an arm as if to grab Kyouji’s shoulder to stop him from leaving, but aborting the movement and rubbing the back of his own neck instead. “’sides, wouldn’t going back so soon be suspicious? Or even wanderin’ around on yer own at this point.”

            Kyouji frowned. He had a point...

 


 

**Note: “Asenna-yo” = calm down

            “Matte, Matte” = wait, wait**

 


 

            After grabbing some food to go, Himitsu entering the line first and ordering for them, not even giving Kyouji a chance to pay for his own, the two made their way to one of the nearby safe houses. Kyouji remained on edge, not having a good enough excuse or the money to spare to refuse Himitsu’s offer. While he wanted to brush it off and just go with the free food, he hesitated to.

            This very much went against Himitsu’s ‘nothing for free’ policy, and it was becoming more difficult to understand the dynamic he was working with when interacting with him. Kyouji was responding on autopilot at this point, waiting for whatever would explain what was going on.

            They ate in relative silence, Kyouji doing nothing to create conversation as he took measured bites of his food. He took his time eating, wanting to postpone whatever Himitsu wanted to talk about. He stopped at what he knew to be his limit, reminding himself it would take time for his stomach to register that he was full, and he didn’t want to make himself sick.

            Kyouji folded his arms on the unsteady table, resting his chin on them and looking over at Himitsu. He had busied himself with his phone when Kyouji’d made it apparent that he wasn’t going to participate in small talk. Kyouji pulled at a loose string on the edge of his jacket, beginning to tie it in knots as he thought.

            He was mentally done with today, and had been since three that morning when he was reminded why safe houses weren’t always that safe. His unwillingness to possibly kill the guy, stranger or not, had cost him a syringe. With only the one left in his pocket, in order to have something to safely defend himself and still be ready for the off-chance of getting the kid alone, he’d have to go back to where he’d stashed the extra ones. That wasn’t really an option at this point. If something similar happened again, he’d either have to fight them off manually, risking a death on his hands or an inconcealable injury and the scales that came with it, or use his last syringe and have to go back for another.

           He sighed quietly, shaking his head lightly. Couldn’t he just call a ‘timeout’ or something? But there wasn’t anything he could do about it at present, and he had other things that demanded his more immediate attention.

            “So what do you want?” Kyouji tiredly asked Himitsu, waiting to hear what he had to say.

            Himitsu chuckled, tucking his phone back into his pocket. “Oh, c’mon, do ya have to be so wary of everything?”

            “Yes.” His answer was immediate and complete.

            “This is why ya think everyone is suspicious of innocent actions. It’s because you are.” Himitsu shook his head, smirking. “I just needed to talk to ya about something, and I figured you’d be more willing to listen on a full stomach. It gave a good enough excuse to get you out of there, too.” He shrugged.

            “And this couldn’t wait until after, because...” Kyouji trailed off, narrowing his eyes at him.

            “I wanted to see you at work. It’s funny to watch ya interact with all of ‘em.” Himitsu hid a laugh behind his hand. “Yer so outta your element. Clearly undercover’s not-“

            Kyouji leaned back in the chair, bringing his folded arms down so they crossed in front of him.

            Himitsu waved him down. “Right, right. No lecture. I’ll skip right ta the point. When ya get the kid, you and the Fujitas aren’t gonna be takin’ him to Yama-”

            “Excuse me? Isn’t that the point of all this?” Kyouji’s mind raced.

            He’s well aware that if this job goes unfinished, the bare minimum consequence was getting cut off from dealing with anyone in that circle. Even if -if- he somehow managed to keep the job at the café, it wouldn’t be enough. Not enough to keep certain people off his back, not enough to ever get his own place, and certainly not enough to disappear from the consequences of failing this job. He didn’t have time, especially not with the end of the month approaching so rapidly. They couldn’t help him anymore than they were already, and he’d like to stay in their good graces for as long as possible-

            “’Ey. Listen to me before ya go freaking out.” Himitsu grabbed his attention from his thoughts. “You won’t be takin’ him to the Yama that gave ya the assignment. A Yama will be involved, just not that one. Ya do know that’s a surname, right? Though technically it’s Yamada, which-“

            “Himitsu-“

            “Right, right.” He hadn’t meant to start rambling, but he wanted to get everything out at once and conciseness had never been his strong suit. “Anyway, ya might have already gotten an idea o’ it, what with the Fujitas and whatnot, but if things continue like they’re supposed ta, you and the Fujitas will deliver the kid to Taishou. Y’ve heard o’ him, I’m sure.” Himitsu held up a hand when Kyouji opened his mouth to speak. “After, Taishou’s done with what ‘e wants ta do, the kid’ll be transferred to the younger Yama, an’ that’ll free ya from any obligations with ‘im.”

            “But-“ Kyouji’s brow creased as he tried to process what he’d been told. So the older brother was involved. One thing in particular stuck out to him, however. “...and how long is that supposed to take? Between the- the delivery and the transfer?” Kyouji shook his head, shoving his hands in his pockets to hide the tremors that had started. “I can’t- this isn’t some game.”

            Until Yama got what he wanted, he’d still be locked out of things, and at that point the café would be an impossibility. As it stood, he could probably manage through the next week on his own, but after that, once people started demanding payment that he didn’t have, things would get messy.

            “I know that.” Himitsu’s brow creased, wondering at Kyouji’s choice of words. “As fer the time, I’m not sure. He said it’d be shorter since the team knows of the place where he’d keep the kid. I guess it depends.”

            “It depends.” Kyouji’s voice laced with venom, his irritation at the situation spilling over. “Well, isn’t that just so helpful.”

            “’Ey. Ya could be goin’ into this blind, at least this way ya know what’s going to happen.” Himitsu crossed his arms. “I don’t see what’s-“

            “Yes, wonderful.” Kyouji supposed Himitsu expected him to be overtly grateful at the information, but it only managed to bring future problems to the present. In his agitation, his thoughts spilled into speech. “Now I get to figure out how the hell I’m going to survive the next weeks, months, or even years before this Taishou decides he done doing... whatever it is he wants the kid for.” Kyouji didn’t like thinking of what that would entail, either. He didn’t want to know, as he doubted he could go through with this if he did.

            “Survive? Jadoku, what-“ A look of realization crossed his face. “Oh, you know if ya succeed in delivery, you’ll be staying with us ‘til the end,” Himitsu said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “And after, most likely, ‘less ya find somewhere you’d rather stay and work from. You’ll be just fine.”

            What?

            Kyouji stared at him in confusion. When had that been any part of the arrangement? And why did Himitsu sound so certain of that? How did he know half the things he’d just told him? And stay with ‘us’? Who was he?

            “How can you be so sure of that?” Kyouji’s gaze flitted to the table as he was unable to hold eye contact.

            Himitsu sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I just am, okay?”

            Well there was at least one thing he wouldn’t answer.

            “Why are you telling me all of this...” Kyouji trailed off, searching for the right words. “If it doesn’t change anything?”

            “Well, yeah, you were gonna to find out at the end, but I figured ya deserved to know what was goin’ on. Surprises don’t seem to be your thing.” Himitsu chuckled briefly, remembering the outburst from a couple nights before. “However... there’s an inherent price ta ya knowin’ now. You can no longer claim ignorance in this task as a safety net fer failure. You’ve gotta make a choice.”

            Kyouji had tensed when Himitsu mentioned a price, but he didn’t end up meaning anything monetary, so it wasn’t too bad. His eyes darted to meet Himitsu’s when he mentioned a choice. What was he talking about? He didn’t have one. Not really, anyway... Kyouji remained silent and Himitsu took it as a sign to continue.

            “So here’re your options.” Himitsu held up a finger. “Ya hand over the box and continue what you were doin’: the job for the lesser Yama. But you’ll have ta compete against the Fujitas for possession o’ the kid, and you’ll have a much higher chance of failure, with whatever comes with that. You’ll be on yer own, even I’m gonna have ta back outta that one. Or-“

            Himitsu ticked up a second finger as something changed about his demeanor. He straightened slightly, his eyes and tone losing their easy edge, and Kyouji wasn’t certain he liked the switch. “-you formally accept Taishou’s mission, and continue to work alongside the Fujitas, earning greater end rewards, but risking a higher immediate cost for failure.”

            Kyouji scoffed, covering his disquiet with hostility. “So why don’t you just say he’ll kill me and not dance around the fact? It’s not like-“

            “Because you’ll live.” Himitsu crossed his arms, not dropping the more rigid posture, but glancing away from Kyouji. “You can’t extract anything from a dead subject. Well, not much.” Himitsu looked up at Kyouji’s dumb-struck expression, an apology almost visible on his face. “Do you understand?”

            ...subject? Did he mean- but... how- no.

            Horror seeped into his limbs as Kyouji realized what that meant, causing him to tense until it was borderline painful. Black spots danced in front of his eyes before he realized he’d stopped breathing, and once he forced himself to, the rush of air made him dizzy, renewing the pounding headache in his skull that pulses with every beat of his heart. He faintly registered he taste of blood and hurriedly covered his mouth with his hand, numbness settling into his fingertips.

            Kyouji muttered through his fingertips, barely able to give voice to his words. “Why would I want to be near someone who’ll do that to me...” He clenched his fists, shakily standing from the table, wanting to escape, just for a little while, but not having anywhere to go. “What- what’s to keep him from doing it anyway?”

            “His word.” Himitsu said it with such certainty that Kyouji knew it had already been given. “That’s just the alternative, not the end result he wants. But...” Himitsu hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “Like I just said, it’s the alternative. It’ll eventually happen if you choose to give up the box, whether you succeed or not. It’s still your choice, like it’s always been, which is something important to him. I just figured you could make a better choice given more information. And it lets you decide before you’re right in front of him and finding out everything.”

            “I-“ Kyouji mentally stumbled over the new information he had, comparing the two options presented and failing to find a case where deciding to give up the box was the best choice, or even a sane choice. It might give him more time to disappear if he messed up, but it wasn’t like he had the means to do so anyway. He swallowed thickly, ignoring the sharp tang of copper and the twin lines of pain across his tongue as he crossed his arms in front of himself.

            “I accept Taishou’s offer.” It didn’t make sense to do otherwise.

            Himitsu immediately relaxed, his smile returning in relief as he stood as well. “Yokatta.”

            Kyouji nodded, the tension draining out of his limbs and leaving him more exhausted than he’d been earlier. He definitely needed to find somewhere that was actually safe to sleep tonight, if he could make it that long without shutting down.

            “D’you want to go back now, or do ya need some time?” Himitsu tilted his head, regarding him with something Kyouji would call concern if he didn’t know better.

            Kyouji took another deep breath, pushing a hand back through his hair in an attempt to calm down. “I... just give me a...” Second? Minute? Year?

            “’Ey, I’m not pushing ya out, I just want ta know. What time do ya need to be back by?”

            “It’s Sunday... it closes at 6.” Kyouji welcomed the mental distraction of work, but he couldn’t go back like this. He’d drop something for sure in the very least. “I should get back by four thirty or five, though.”

            “Well, it’s a quarter ta four, and we’re maybe ten minutes out.” Himitsu looked up at him, considering. “Maybe ya should try ta get some sleep. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re up on time.”

            Kyouji thought about it for a second before nodding, heading over to the couch in the living room and plopping down on it. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the general discomfort; he was probably going to pass out soon, whether he wanted to or not. Besides, if Himitsu had gone to all that trouble to convince him to agree, then it was probably a safe bet to say he wouldn’t wake up dead while he was here. He’d just sleep for a little bit.


**Note: Yokatta= I’m glad

 


 

            Back in the shop, business had dropped off completely, the afternoon customers having come and gone. Hiro knew from past experience that a few would come in shortly before closing to grab something to go, but other than that everything was done for the day.

            Hiro turned off the ovens, chatting lightly with Ara as he did so, and laughing at the stories she had to share. Working together, they quickly finished any remaining tasks and were left without much of anything to do. Hiro took a couple of moments to go upstairs to check on Tadashi, who had curled up on the couch and started to binge watch Mythbusters. Apparently Wasabi had watched a few of the new episodes with him earlier, and Tadashi wanted to get caught up on it.

           After being shooed back downstairs by Tadashi, Hiro glanced at the clock, wondering at the time. It was quickly approaching five, and there was still no sign of Kyouji. Hiro shrugged. He had told him he only needed to check back in before closing, and it wasn’t like they were swamped or anything. As long as this didn’t become an everyday thing, Hiro wasn’t about to get upset.

            “How’s he doing?” Ara asked Hiro, tucking her phone back into her pocket as he exited the back room.

            “Teddy’s just watching some TV,” Hiro leaned back against the counter, yawning before continuing, “Looks like ‘sabi got him back into Mythbusters, so he’s watching them blow stuff up.”

            Ara thought for a moment. “You know, I think I’ve seen a couple episodes of that. I never did get too into it.”

            “Ah.” Hiro stood in silence, considering what to say. “So, how are you liking it here? It’s just your first day, but I’m curious.”

            “I’m liking it just fine,” Ara responded happily. “Most people are really nice, and the company’s not half bad.”

            Hiro chuckled at that. Most people, indeed. But there was always one or two that stood out from the bunch in a negative way. As for the company... “Yeah, I saw you two chatting when I came in. You’ve gotten along quickly.”

            “Or very, very slowly,” Ara laughed. “We talked a bit in high school, but he... wasn’t the most social guy. I can’t recall him ever having a group of friends he was with...”

            “I can see that.” Hiro nodded, the statement unsurprising.

            “Yeah, which is why I was so shocked earlier when that guy stopped by-” Ara paused. “Um, that sounded kind of mean, I didn’t mean it like that-“

            Hiro laughed, waving his hand. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

            “Right. I mean, it’s nice he’s got someone like that, I just didn’t think- but I’ll stop talking before I make it worse.” Ara laughed nervously, covering her face briefly in mild embarrassment.

            “Okay, then. Oh,” Hiro remembered something he’d meant to talk to her about, but hadn’t had the time earlier. “In your paperwork, you mentioned only being able to work full days Sundays and Wednesdays, right? What hours do you want otherwise?” Hiro still didn’t know how actual work schedules were supposed to go, but he supposed he’d let them choose.

            “Mornings are fine with me. I can help open and stuff, I just have swim practice in the afternoons and I’ve got a couple of evening classes so I prefer to do online classwork then too, even on days I don’t have actual class.”

            “So, opening to noon, then?” Hiro clarified.

            Ara nodded happily. “Yep, sounds good.”

            “I guess that’ll start tomorrow, but I can be here, so we don’t have to worry about that.” Hiro shrugged.

            From what he and Fred had done, there really didn’t seem to be an easy way for him to breathe fire, and the more he did, the less was produced. He supposed so long as he kept his reserves depleted every now and then, it wouldn’t be something he’d have to worry about.

            Hiro was struck with a sudden realization that it was a good thing he had a healthcare robot for if he happened to get sick. Having someone look down the back of his throat, with the firm lining of dark red scales, could cause potential issues. He’d checked in a mirror while washing up before eating at Fred’s place, but unless the light was shining right in, one couldn’t really tell that his throat was any different. At least he hoped not. No one had exactly said anything, so Hiro supposed he was good. Just so long as they stayed in his throat, he’d be fine.

            The café fell silent, and Ara watched the door, curiosity in her gaze.

            “I wonder what’s taking so long.” Ara muttered.

            Hiro wasn’t sure if she wanted a response, so he settled with shrugging. It was barely five, and there was still an hour to go. For all Hiro knew, Kyouji would show up with two minutes to spare, just to grab his stuff from the back. There wouldn’t be much left to help with, regardless. In fact, if she wanted, Ara could be done for the day.

            Hiro turned to ask if she wanted to leave, when she perked up, smiling at the doorway. He followed her gaze, spotting Kyouji and the guy who’d come in earlier part ways, Kyouji turning in towards the door and the guy continuing down the street.

            The café door’s bells jangled as Kyouji pushed inside, yawning and running a hand through his hair as if to try to straighten it out.

            Ara waved from the counter. “Welcome back!”

            “Hey.” Kyouji made his way back behind the counter, glancing around at the empty café. He grinned, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Quite a crowd you’ve got here.”

            Ara nodded solemnly. “Hiro and I have just been overwhelmed with people. If only there’d been one more person to help, but alas, it seemed as if you’d never return.”

            Hiro chuckled lightly and Kyouji’s grin became genuine at her sarcasm.

            “Terribly sorry,” Kyouji inclined his head in mock contriteness. “I fell asleep.”

            “Oh?” Ara raised an eyebrow, clearly amused at that. “Do tell.”

            “Um, yeah, I wasn’t planning on it when I left, but I mean,” Kyouji smiled sheepishly. “I feel a bit more alert, so that’s something.”

            “Yeah, I guess it is.” Ara’s ears twitched at the sound of distant thunder, and she frowned lightly. “Aw, it would choose to wait until closing.”

            “What?” Kyouji looked at her, confused, but Hiro didn’t seem to be. Clearly he’d missed something, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.

            “The thunder,” Ara said simply. “The rain will probably get here right around closing time.”

            “Oh.” Kyouji glanced outside. The weather had been fine on the way over...

            “Oh, Ara,” Hiro spoke up. “Like I was going to say right before Kyouji got here: you’ve been here all day, you can head out if you want.”

            “Are you sure?” Ara hesitated. Even though she was feeling the strain of being on her feet all day, it didn’t seem fair to just leave and let them do the rest.

            Hiro nodded. “Absolutely. Kyouji and I’ve got this.”

            “Well... alright then. Maybe I can even beat the storm. It sure has been raining a lot lately...” Ara pouted lightly, before gathering her things and heading for the door. “I guess I’ll see you boys later! Bye!”

            “See you.”

            After Ara left, the café fell into a comfortable silence, both of them wrapped up in their respective thoughts. The atmosphere was only broken when the predicted customers came in for their quick snack to go. Hiro checked the clock and decided to close the register. There were only five minutes left until the posted closing time, and he didn’t expect anyone else to come in at that point.

            “I guess we’re done for the day, then.” Hiro yawned, more than ready to turn in, but knowing he still had things to do even after the café itself closed for the night.

            “Okay.” Kyouji nodded and headed towards the back room to grab his bag.

            “Oh, hey.” Hiro grabbed Kyouji’s attention, wanting to tell him before he forgot again. “There should be a check in an envelope near where you left your bag, for your work up until now.”

            When Kyouji looked surprised, Hiro squashed down the need to explain himself further. Employers were supposed to be more assertive than he’d been so far, and he didn’t want to accidentally shove his foot in his mouth in the process.

            Kyouji wondered if this was normal for an actual job, having never worked in this fashion before. He simply nodded before continuing into the room, out of Hiro’s sight, deciding it wasn’t going to be something to concern himself with.

            After all, he thought with a grimace as he slipped the envelope into a pocket of his bag, it’s not like I’ll be here much longer.

            He swung the backpack onto his back and waved to Hiro as he headed out the door, hoping the rain would continue to hold out until he got to some form of shelter.

 


 

            Hiro rubbed at his face after locking up, trying to force the dull edges of his mind to wakefulness. It seemed like things wouldn’t let up for a while, he just needed to make it through Thursday and then...

            He shook his head. Then Christmas would be right around the corner and everything that came with that. San Fransokyo’s unique climate meant that after the rainy season, winter would come fast on its heels with cold weather that bit at exposed skin. Hiro wondered how that would affect Tadashi, what with his new temperament. Maybe he could design something that could keep his brother warm, unless it turned out he could maintain that himself, now. He’d check with Baymax later.

            Hiro reached the top of the stairs, hearing the sounds of the TV still playing.

            “Hey, Teddy. Still watching that?” Hiro leaned over the back of the chair, not trusting himself to sit down lest he get too comfortable to stand again.

            Tadashi nodded. “Yeah, I’m rewatching some, too.”

            “You getting any ideas?” Hiro gestured towards the notebook Tadashi had asked that he bring him. The brothers had made it a habit to write down anything that shows like this did to spark their interest, turning it into projects later on down the road.

            “A couple, but...” Tadashi glanced to the side, embarrassed.

            “But what?” Hiro prompted.

            “I can’t write...” Tadashi ducked his head, irritated and annoyed.

            “You can’t-“ Hiro was reminded that just a week ago, Tadashi had been in the mindset of a five year old, and would have just been learning to read. Now that he had his memories, he had the mental ability to recognize letters and words as they were, but...

            “I know what I want to write, and I can picture the letters in my head, but I can’t-“ Tadashi folded his arms, bringing up his legs onto the couch and resting his arms on them. “I can’t make it come out right. I can’t get my fingers to hold the pen right and what I get out doesn’t even look like letters...”

            “Hey, don’t worry about it.” Hiro noticed for the first time the crumpled pieces of paper on the floor, and one clear on the other side of the room, but now wasn’t the best time to mention that. “That’s a fine motor skill, you’ll get it.”

            Tadashi sighed. “I know... it’s just annoying to know I could do it... I never really thought I wouldn’t be able to...”

            Hiro nodded understandingly. “We could always enroll you in classes. I don’t claim to know how to teach that stuff, but maybe—“

            “No.” Tadashi shook his head vehemently. “I couldn’t stand that. I can figure it out.”

            “Hey, you might make some friends.” Hiro chuckled, picturing Tadashi in a swarm of kindergartners.

            “Because that worked so well for you...” Tadashi muttered under his breath.

            “Hey.” Hiro’s tone changed, anger showing through. He didn’t have to bring that up, and that was so unlike Tadashi...

            “Sorry... I’m sorry.” Tadashi looked over at him, genuine apology written on his face. “That was uncalled for.”

            “It was.” Hiro sighed, shaking his head. “But I forgive you.”

            He paused for a moment, considering before addressing his now younger brother. “You know, if you’re really against the idea of school we could get you a private tutor. Just for the things you need help with.”

            “No, it’s okay Hiro.” Tadashi shook his head. “I just need to practice, you don’t need to waste the money.”

            Hiro chuckled at that. “Believe me, we’ve got plenty. I do work for real, you know.” That reminded Hiro, he had a meeting that weekend with a prospective buyer for a design he’d thankfully finished back in October. But he never delivered things early, since people would come to expect that, whether it were possible or not. He also needed to check in with the hospitals again, just to see how the robots there were behaving and if he needed to tune them up any time soon.

            “Hiro?” Tadashi’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. The five year old laughed. “You were thinking too much.”

            “Ah well, it happens every now and then,” Hiro joked. “I’ll make sandwiches for dinner, how’s that? And I’ll bring in your old laptop for you to write on. It might be slow going, but you could manage typing, right?”

            Tadashi brightened, nodding. Even if it were just chicken pecking, he could get words onto a computer screen. He’d done it before at the orphanage when he’d been looking for Hiro in the first place.  

            After Hiro got Tadashi settled with the food and the laptop, he made his way up to their shared room with his own sandwich. He might as well do this while Tadashi was busy. Finishing a bite, Hiro cleared his throat when the red crate came within range.

            “Ow.” Hiro waited for Baymax to inflate as he finished his food quickly, washing it down with a water bottle from the pile he kept near his workstation.

            “Hello. How may I help today?”

            “Hey, Baymax.” Hiro wanted him to look him over after having expended so much firepower that afternoon. Ideally, he would have had him there directly afterwards, but he’d forgotten. “Scan me, and make note of internal temperatures, or well... anything out of the ordinary.”

            Now that Hiro knew something was going on, he wanted to be more informed. He’d like to limit surprises in the future if he could help it.

            “Scan complete. Readings indicate that your internal temperatures are lower than your last recording, but still much higher than the average human. In addition, your stress levels are: high, and your energy levels are: low. Might I suggest a good night’s sleep and a decrease in caffeine intake?”

            “Funny,” Hiro deadpanned. “Anything else? Specifically about... um, my new condition.”

            “There have been no change in symptoms from your last scan, but as your brain finishes maturing, perhaps more will manifest.”

            Hiro narrowed his eyes. “How do you mean?”

            “The onset of symptoms correlates with the final stages of development of your brain,” Baymax explained, pulling up a chart. “As your decision making center completes its maturation, your brain will reach its ideal state, when I believe you will finish expressing new symptoms.”

            “What?” Hiro stared at the robot. It could, and would likely, get worse? “When would that be?”

            “It varies from person to person. Your prefrontal cortex will continue to develop at least until age 25, and may continue into your early thirties.”

            Hiro blanched. That long? And he’d have to watch for new symptoms continually? He grimaced, waving Baymax down.

            “I’m satisfied with my care.”

            Once Baymax was fully tucked away, Hiro leaned against the desk, fuming. He had enough on his plate right now, and he hadn’t asked for this. It was cool enough in practice or when showing off to his friends, but what it could lead to was a pain to think about.

            In Tadashi’s case, he could just hide it away, and he had time to figure things out. For all the public cared, Tadashi could hide away in his room for weeks and nothing bad would come of it. Sure their friends would complain, but Tadashi didn’t have any responsibilities to worry about. Their friends already knew about him, and he didn’t have to worry about them accidentally seeing if something else manifested. But Hiro...

            In the very least Hiro had to finish out the promised projects and check-ups for the clients he already had, in addition to keeping the café going. However... now that Aunt Cass was improving, the day that she could come back and run things wasn’t so far off anymore. If he had to, he could probably find a way to contact buyers and such through technology rather than face to face. He’d already done so with one overseas company in particular. Perhaps he should focus more on that.

            Hiro shook his head harshly. It was too soon to consider things so far off. He needed to focus on the things he had to deal with now. He still didn’t really have Thanksgiving planned out, but Aunt Cass had mentioned handling that. He needed to get in contact with her again and settle things there before the week got away from him. Tadashi’s helmet was another thing he needed to work on, specifically with finding the right materials to make it with, but he supposed that could be put off to a later time. He also needed to craft more of the gel patches for Tadashi’s back. He’d been fortunate to have the supplies he’d needed on hand earlier, but he’d have to stock up if this were going to become a constant thing.

            Hiro sighed, pushing a hand through his hair. On top of that, he needed to decide when and how to tell Tadashi about his own changes, as well as the rest of the group. He figured Tadashi deserved to learn first, but he’d already told Fred, and if that got out Tadashi would probably be mad at him for keeping another thing from him. He also needed to find out what Tadashi wanted to do about his own powers and such. They’d partially talked about it earlier, but that was a serious conversation they needed to eventually have and work from. Then there was the issue of figuring out what to do about Tadashi’s schooling, and he really did need to check in with how the other nurse robots were coming along.

            Forcing his jaw to unclench, Hiro sighed in irritation, feeling a flicker at the back of his throat and mentally thanking himself for depleting his fire reserves earlier. That could be a mess if he were to set his bedroom on fire. But just standing fuming there did nothing to quell the irritation and the desire to do something.

            A cheap white ceramic mug sitting empty on his desk caught his attention. It was like hundreds of others down in the shop, easily replaceable. No one would care if he just...

            Hiro picked it up, weighing it carefully in his hand, turning it this way and that. Spotting an empty space on the wall, Hiro grinned, rearing his arm back and taking aim. The mug made contact with the wall exactly where he’d planned, and he felt an inexplicable satisfaction at watching it shatter irreparably into hundreds of pieces. White shards covered the floor, and Hiro frowned upon realizing that he’d have to clean this up now.

            “You okay?” Tadashi’s concerned call came from downstairs, as he’d heard the sound of something breaking.

            “Yeah,” Hiro called back, staring at the mess in front of him. “Everything’s fine.”


           

            Monday morning was much busier than normal, and even between the three of them, there wasn’t a moment where any of them had nothing to do. Hiro was extremely grateful when the human traffic began to taper around noon, and could only hope that continued. Ara waved goodbye as she grabbed her bag from where it rested next to Kyouji’s in the back room and headed off to practice, apologizing for having to leave the other two on their own.

            The smell of coffee was beginning to make Hiro inexplicably nauseas, and he hoped he wasn’t coming down with anything... or that something else was developing.

            “I’m going to take these to the back and get started on them.” Hiro picked up the tray that had been holding dishes while the workers had been to busy to attend to them.

            “Alright,” Kyouji nodded, turning to the people who’d just come up to the front. “What can I get you?”

            The older girl balanced what appeared to be a four or five year old on her hip as she studied the menu. “Ah, I’m not a coffee person, much. I’ll just stick with some cocoa. Medium.” She turned to the younger girl. “What about you, Mari?”

            Mari took the ladybug pendant from her bracelet out of her mouth in order to answer. “Sissy, I want that.” She was pointing at a strawberry tart on the display.

            The older sister considered it for a moment. “That’s kinda big... I guess we can split it.” Turning back to Kyouji, she gestured at the tart. “One of those, please. Oh, and some water.”

            Kyouji nodded, entering it into the register. “Go ahead and take a seat, I’ll bring it all out when your drink’s ready.”

            Nodding and shifting the younger girl in her arms, the sister accepted the number and went to sit at a nearby table. Setting Mari into the seat, she unstuck the ladybug necklace from behind her little sister’s ear, letting it fall properly.

            The hot chocolate didn’t take long at all to make, and Kyouji brought it and the other parts of the order to the table, setting them down and returning to the counter. Suddenly, Mari scampered down out of her seat, running over to Hiro, who’d just come out of the back room.

            “Mari!” The older sister hurried after her. “Don’t go running off like that. Ugh, so sorry about that.”

            Hiro laughed lightly, almost recognizing the two but not quite being able to place them. “No, it’s fine—“

            “Sissy, sissy! It’s the guy from the park!” Mari interrupted Hiro, looking around. “Where’s Teddy?” She suddenly demanded.

            Hiro knelt down so he was talking face to face with her. “He’s out with some friends right now, but I’ll tell him you said hi.”

            “Awww.” Mari pouted, scuffing her shoe. “Okay...”

            Hiro chuckled, straightening as the sisters made their way back over to the table to finish their snack before leaving.

            When the midafternoon lull came around, Hiro decided then would be as good a time as any to restock the display area. The café had mostly emptied out, giving the two room to move and time to complete the task in.

            “Hey, could you go around to that side for that display?” Hiro pointed where he wanted Kyouji to go. “I’ll pass you things to put on it.”

            Kyouji nodded, going to the outer side of the counter after washing his hands, leaning against it as he waited for Hiro.

            “You know, we’ve been at this all day.” Hiro tapped the pan in the oven with his hand briefly, before taking a better grip on it when he determined it was cool enough. “If you want to take a short break after this, it’d probably be the best time.”

            “Nah.” Kyouji shook his head as Hiro brought the pan over, moving to accept it with both hands. “I don’t- ah!”

            Kyouji dropped the pan quickly, almost as soon as Hiro had passed it to him, bringing his hands in towards himself as his face scrunched up in pain. “Shi-“

            Hiro’s confusion quickly turned into fear when he realized the pan might not have been as cool as he’d thought it was. “Oh- sorry! Um, here, let me see-”

            Hiro had leaned over the counter and managed to get a hold of Kyouji’s wrists, barely catching a glimpse of green before Kyouji tore out of his grip. Hiro blinked and Kyouji had moved, faster than Hiro thought possible, towards the door and was gone in seconds.

            By the time Hiro processed what had just happened and had gotten out from behind the counter, Kyouji was nowhere in sight. Hiro stood for a moment just outside of the door, looking both ways down the street, but not seeing him at all.

            ...what the hell? What was that about?

            Hiro chewed on his bottom lip, wanting to go after him, but having to decide against it. He had no idea where in the city to even begin looking, and he had to stay and watch the café, anyway. Maybe if he had even a hint... But Hiro shook his head, going back inside and trying to process.

            He definitely hadn’t meant to do that. He’d thought the pan had been sitting there, cooling, and the heat hadn’t even registered. Hiro began to pick up the fallen pastries, feeling them fall apart as they hadn’t cooled yet, either. He tossed them into the trash in the back room, looking closely at his hands for any explanation of why the temperature didn’t affect him.

            He saw nothing but smooth skin, nothing like what was going on in his throat to protect him from the heat.

            So how?

            Dropping his hands and letting his gaze rest lazily on whatever was in front of him, Hiro gave up trying to understand for the moment. His eyes widened briefly when he spotted Kyouji’s bag still sitting in the spot where he’d left it earlier.

            While Hiro still didn’t have a way to contact Kyouji, having never received a number in return, surely he’d have to come back. Maybe he just got spooked. Hiro didn’t blame him, he’d probably get out of there too if someone had handed him a burning object as if it were nothing. He’d have to think of a good explanation. Maybe he could say his side wasn’t as hot because it wasn’t as close to the inside of the oven. Yeah, that could work.

            Hiro went back into the main of the café, apologizing to a couple of customers who’d been waiting to be served. Business picked back up and Hiro was kept busy, having to greet Tadashi only briefly when he was dropped off, sending him upstairs and avoiding his questions for the time being.

            By closing time, which was 7:30 on Mondays, Kyouji still hadn’t returned. Hiro hesitated to lock the door, but decided that he could always knock if he came back later. He flipped the sign to ‘CLOSED,’ determined to keep an ear out.

            For now...

            Hiro hesitated again, but decided to check the backpack, if only to find a possible return address and phone number. The forms he’d received earlier only had a superficial proof of residency without a stated address, so it was ultimately useless to him. He just needed some way to contact him. He couldn’t even as a last resort have Baymax track him down, as Baymax hadn’t scanned him specifically earlier.

            Hiro finally picked up the bag, it being as full as he’d suspected, but surprisingly lighter. There were no tags on the outside of the worn fabric, and the front pocket was completely empty. When he opened the main pocket, however, he paused.

            Why would he need to... carry... his clothes... oh.

            Hiro zipped it up, placing it back where it had been and feeling incredibly guilty for snooping around. That wasn’t any of his business.

            Well, at least, Hiro thought as he made his way back up the stairs, he’ll definitely have to come back for that.

Chapter Text

            The stinging in his hands receded quickly, but Kyouji kept moving, the actions of disappearing into a crowd instinctual at this point. He knew the worst thing to do when trying to escape notice would be to run, but it was difficult to keep an even pace when his mind was screaming at him to hide. He had to get out of there, before Hiro…  

            Before he what?

            He paused for a split second, just long enough for someone to bump into him from behind and shoot him a dirty look for not being more aware of his surroundings. He avoided their gaze, turning a corner down another street jam-packed with people. Downtown San Fransokyo at this time of day was the perfect place to get lost in a crowd; no one would look twice at another person with their hood up and hands shoved deep into their pockets. It was almost too easy.

            Leaning against a half-wall near the train stop, Kyouji attempted to calm his still-racing heart with a series of measured breaths. Despite having resisted the urge to run, he felt like he’d performed nothing short of a marathon. Adrenalin rushed through his veins, causing his hands to tremble where they remained tightly clenched, hidden in the fabric of his jacket.

            Pressure lay thick at the back of his throat and refused to abate as he attempted to form his scattered thoughts into options, questions whirring through his mind. What all had Hiro seen, and of that, what had he been able to understand? After leaving the way he had, Kyouji knew he couldn’t just go back, at least not without facing questions he couldn’t answer, but did he need to hide? Had he somehow managed to be quick enough?

            Kyouji sighed, dropping to the bench across from the tracks with a dull ‘thunk’. He didn’t have time nor the energy to deal with this. Was it too much to ask for something to go right? At least for a little while? Wrapped up in his thoughts, Kyouji didn’t even notice someone approach, a habit that had cost him before.

            “Didn’t figure ya for a moper.”

            Kyouji startled, eyes snapping to Himitsu as he took a seat next to him. “I’m not- how- what are you-“ Kyouji stumbled over his words as too many thoughts attempted to form at once.

            Himitsu laughed, waving a hand to cut off his fractured speech. “Would ya believe meetin’ up’s a coincidence?”

            “No.” Kyouji nearly went to cross his arms, before aborting the movement, catching himself at the last moment to keep his hands hidden. The gesture did not go unnoticed, unfortunately.

            “Hmm.” Himitsu frowned, glancing over Kyouji and seeing the still fading panic in his eyes and in the tense way he held himself. “So, what happened?”

            “I…“ Kyouji hesitated, before setting his jaw and staring at the concrete in front of him. He had to remember who he was talking to. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

            “Sure. Not what I asked, though.”

            “And you just have to know everything.” Kyouji muttered, scuffing his shoe against the ground. A dumb move if he wanted them to last, but with his failing luck, they’d be around longer than he would.

            “It’d be helpful, yeah.” Himitsu leaned back against the bench, crossing his arms. “Can’t do much if ya don’t tell-“

            “I told you, it’s nothing.” Kyouji went to push his hair out of his face in agitation, not realizing his mistake until Himitsu had a grip on his wrist. “Hey!”

            “Nothin’, huh?” Himitsu turned Kyouji’s palm towards himself, taking in the small, bright green scales that spanned his hand and spread up his fingers. He barely had time to register the scales moving, lifting from where the skin would be into an array of raised spikes, when Kyouji yanked his hand from his grasp.

            “Can you not?” Something frighteningly near a snarl contorted Kyouji’s face as he shoved his hand back in his pocket, looking frantically around for anyone who might have seen.

            Thankfully, there weren’t too many people there, as the next train was not due to take passengers for a while. There were only a couple bystanders, but they were far off and preoccupied, a map spread wide in front of them as they argued, the words unintelligible from this distance.

            “Wouldn’t’ve if you’d just said somethin’.” Himitsu shrugged, unrepentant. “Could just guess ‘til you react, but that’d waste both o’ our time. Out with it.”

            Kyouji huffed, watching the others hurry out, having made up their minds, leaving the two alone in the station. He might as well say something, since Himitsu’d pester him until he did anyway.

            “Burned myself on accident, Hiro may or may not have seen them, and I booked it out of there. At best he thinks I’m weird. At worst…” Kyouji trailed off, not certain which version of ‘worst’ he wished to detail, he shook his head, deciding it didn’t matter. “Whatever. Anyway, can’t stay there with my hands like this…”

            Himitsu hummed in agreement, remaining silent for a moment. “Well, maybe this’ll make things easier. There’re better ways to do what ya need to, ya know.”

            Kyouji’s irritation flared, his shoulders tensing at Himitsu’s easy words. As if he could have done better. “Shut up.”

            “Excuse me?” Himitsu raised his eyebrows challengingly.

            Kyouji glanced away, biting his tongue to keep himself from digging his grave any deeper. He damped his frustration with the reminder that Himitsu was someone he didn’t want to get on the bad side of, and possibly the only person willing and able to help him. Or at least he had been…

            “Just…” Kyouji paused, but it wasn’t like Himitsu could really help with this, and he needed room to think. “Go away.”

            Himitsu’s brow creased, but he stood, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Yeah, yeah, whatever, ya know how to reach me if anythin’...” He trailed off, looking around the bench and frowning at Kyouji. “You missin’ something?”

            Confusion swept over Kyouji’s face before his eyes widened in realization. He’d forgotten his backpack. “Shit.”

            “Don’t suppose ya kept your phone in there?”

            “No, I-“ Kyouji checked his pants pockets, pulling out his phone, the small box, and the final syringe. “I’ve still got these, just…” Nothing else.

            Himitsu watched as Kyouji shoved the items into his jacket pockets and leaned back against the bench, shoulders slumped. His blank stare was unnerving, and Himitsu shifted his stance to no reaction. He frowned, tilting his head as he took in Kyouji’s defeated posture. That wouldn’t do.

            “Well, go get it back.” Himitsu crossed his arms impatiently. “That’s what yer good at, innit?”

            Kyouji looked up at that, but Himitsu kept talking.

            “An’ I don’t mean ya have to waltz back in there, but you know the place, when it closes, and where yer stuff is… ‘less someone moved it.” Himitsu paused, before pressing on. “Not like yer bag’s gonna scream or fight back, and no one’ll care or even notice it’s gone, with luck.”

            “I don’t have a whole lot of that.” Kyouji stood, regardless. At least now he had something of a plan… that he really should have thought of himself. But his mind was still muddled, and trying to process everything that had happened was like trying to navigate through fog, with no clear direction.

            “But you do have plenty of skill,” Himitsu shrugged. “Whenever ya feel like actually usin’ it.”

            Kyouji’s gaze skittered away, and he fiddled with the box in his pocket. That was… complicated. But he’d focus on one thing at a time, starting with getting his bag back. There wasn’t an easy norm to fall back into anymore, no schedule to follow, and once again his only guideline was ‘hurry up.’ It didn’t feel as comforting as it should have.

            Rolling up his left sleeve, Kyouji worked at the knot in the crook of his elbow to release the bandages. His sleeve would have to suffice to hide his arm; his hands needed it more. He could feel the itch of loose scales as the bandages brushed against them. They were almost ready to shed, some having apparently fallen away already, but speeding along the process was never a good idea.

            Kyouji huffed as the knot proved difficult to untangle, especially with the dulled sensation at his scale coated fingertips. It’d been a while since he’d done anything to his hands, and the difference in touch was foreign.

            “You just wear those ‘round fer stuff like this?” Himitsu watched as Kyouji struggled with the fabric.

            “Not quite.” Kyouji finally felt the knot loosen and began to unwrap his arm, winding the cloth around his hand as detached scales dropped to the concrete below.

            “Wait, hey, are ya really gonna do that here?”  Himitsu’s bewilderment turned to curiosity when a few solid scales fell away with the flakes, which Kyouji kicked to the train track grit with distaste.

            “No one’s around,” Kyouji tugged his sleeve down with more force than necessary once the last bit of bandage was freed from his wrist. “And you sure didn’t care if anyone saw before.”  

            He considered the strip of fabric, deciding it would have to be enough, if he could just find some way to split it. Even so, the fingers were going to be a pain to conceal.

            “Wait, were ya actually hurt?” Himitsu gestured at his arm. “Or was it like with yer hands just to hide it?”

            “Hmm.” Kyouji would keep that to himself. “Do you have anything sharp?”

            Himitsu frowned. “I do, but those,” he pointed to the bandages, “better not be what yer stickin’ with. Gloves’d be better.”

            “Because I have those right now.” Kyouji responded sarcastically as he held out his hand to receive the switchblade, which was handed over with mild hesitation. It split the fabric easier than Kyouji expected, and he returned it with a raised eyebrow.

            “No point if it ain’t sharp.” Himitsu smirked. “Ya know I could just grab some ya some gloves fro-“

            “I can get them myself.” Kyouji finished with one hand and struggled to get it to tie properly. He couldn’t do much about the fingers without tying them together, but if he kept his hand in a fist most of the time it shouldn’t be noticeable.

            Himitsu stepped forward. “It’d be easier if you’d just let me-“

            “I’m fine.” Kyouji finally tightened it with his teeth, he could do this himself.

            The lights began to flash at the end of the station to signal the next train, and Himitsu rolled his eyes, moving to speed along the process for the second hand. He wrapped it quickly while Kyouji glowered at him with his arm still outstretched.

            Kyouji had barely tucked his hands in his pockets when the train car pulled to a stop and people bustled out, hurrying in all directions. None were interested in lingering, nor did they spare a passing glance for the two men standing there. Backing towards the bench, Kyouji sat so that the press of people wasn’t quite so overwhelming, waiting for the swarm of bodies to dissipate.

            Moments later, when the stop was almost empty again, Himitsu rejoined him on the bench. He had a ball of fabric in his hands, which unfolded to plain black gloves. He held them out as a peace offering for ignoring him about the bandages a moment ago.

            “Someone’d stuffed ‘em in their bag’s side pocket, they’ll assume they fell out.”

            Kyouji nearly rejected them before he remembered that not only would it be a bad idea to anger Himitsu, but it would also be easier not to have to track down some himself. He slipped the gloves on over the bandages, clenching and unclenching his fists to get them to settle correctly. They’d do.

            Suspicion clouded Kyouji’s mind as he tried to fathom why Himitsu was deciding to be… nice, he supposed would be the right term. Not that outright cruelty was his norm, but… everything usually came with a price. The mental tally of what would surely need to be repaid eventually was beginning to become difficult to keep track of, and Kyouji cringed at the thought.

            The task that loomed ahead of him, far removed from the initial whim of sore loser who didn’t know how to let get of a grudge, had to go well, or… that was it.

            Game Over.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

            The café was different at night, the windows of each floor darkened and reflecting only the streetlights. Twelve hours difference transformed the previously busy streets to silent stretches of road, interrupted only by the rare car. As Kyouji approached the shop again, he walked alone on the sidewalk, and despite knowledge to the contrary, it felt as if there weren’t another person for miles.

            A small flash of orange light down the street turned into a stray cat as it neared Kyouji. He startled when the cat brushed past before he shook his head and scanned for any other nearby life. Spotting none, Kyouji sighed, wondering when he’d gotten so jumpy about this. The café was only a few steps further; he needed to get out of that mindset.

            The front door was glass, and Jadoku knew it wouldn’t be difficult to aim for the weaker parts near the frame and break in, but he’d rather go entirely unnoticed. He remembered with a grimace that even if he got the door unlocked silently, there were bells on the other side that would go off if he opened it. They were loud enough to alert the presence of a customer to someone in the backroom of the café on a busy day, and to set them off at night would be something to avoid if at all possible.

            Jadoku checked his pockets as if looking for keys, just in case someone was watching, before shrugging and making his way around the side of the building. He recalled seeing a door at the base of the stairs when he’d been sent to get Hiro, and it had been styled a way only a door connected to the outside would be. If he remembered correctly, it would be right around… here.

            Concrete steps lead to the door he was looking for. Once Jadoku was close enough, a glance along the door frame told him the deadbolt was thrown. Though there was a way to unlock it from the outside, it’d make it a bit trickier to open than the latch on the glass door up front. Before anything else, though, there was something to always check first. People weren’t always that careful, and it’d make things easier if perhaps…

            Adjusting his gloves where they’d slid up against his bandages, Jadoku glanced around, looking for anything that might conceal what he was looking for. He decided the rim of the door might be wide enough, so he reached up to brush his hand over it. Jadoku encountered something solid, knocking it off the sill above the door and barely managed to catch the key before it clattered against the steps.

            Hopefully they haven’t changed the locks since they left this here.

            Jadoku looked carefully past the door for any signs of life in this part of the house. When he was sure there were none, he eased the key into the lock and it turned with the quiet click of the deadbolt being pulled back into the door.

            Tucking the key into his pocket, Jadoku eased the door open, wary of possible hinge squeaks. Once he’d slipped in and the door was again shut behind him, he quietly padded into the café area, looking around the supply room for his bag. He hadn’t been careful about where he’d put it, and in the dark, the black fabric would blend into the shadows. Too bad his eyes didn’t work like that.

            A bright orange and red light in his peripheral vision had Jadoku freezing, stilling his breathing to absolute silence. The light was too low to the ground to be a person, and Jadoku scrambled to remember if the Hamadas had a pet, and more importantly, what kind.

            A loud meow reminiscent of an alley cat begging for food made it clear what was in front of him. Jadoku frowned at it, but wasn’t foolish enough to try and hush it. He’d have to ignore it for now and hope it didn’t like to bite. Another loud yowl had Jadoku wondering if they’d miss the cat too terribly if it suddenly went missing.

            Just as Jadoku spotted a dark lump that was quite likely what he’d come for, he heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and grumbling that grew steadily louder. Glancing back, white light flooded his vision, and it took him a moment to realize it wasn’t an actual light, but a heat signature. The kid’s heat signature.

            By the time the house light at the bottom of the stairs flicked on, Jadoku had moved further into the café, keeping to the shadows.

            “Mochi?” Tadashi yawned and leaned against the railing. “Mochi, come on, we fed you.”

            When the cat turned to him and let out another nerve-grating meow, Tadashi sighed, moving to pick her up.

            Jadoku crouched near the machines in the main part of the café, watching what was happening through the wall. Only Tadashi’s signature was bright enough to see, but it was enough. One hand in his pocket, Jadoku turned the small box over in thought. He was right there. It would almost be too easy, provided the kid didn’t get a chance to scream.

            “Hiro’s gonna kill you if you keep waking him up.” Tadashi scolded.

            The first part of the kid’s statement had set Jadoku’s heart to his throat, before he realized he was still talking to the cat. If he was going to do something, he needed to do it soon.

            But he hesitated.

            Jadoku’s mind raced to come up with every possible scenario in which something could go wrong. Even though instinct told him he could, his mind was dead-set on finding reasons not to, reasons it would be a bad idea.

            “Huh. I thought Hiro was supposed to lock this.”

            The distant sound of the deadbolt switching shut told Jadoku that Tadashi was at the door.

            He didn’t move.

            The house light was turned off, and Jadoku watched the tiny pinprick of white light until it vanished, Tadashi now safely back upstairs.

            Letting out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, Jadoku stood from where he’d been crouching. He moved quietly back into the supply room, and coming from this direction, it was much easier to find and grab his bag from where he’d tossed it earlier.

            This was fine.

            No one had expected him to bring in the kid tonight, and it would have gone horribly if he’d tried. The cat alone could cause issues, even if the kid hadn’t. It was fine.

            Slipping the bag onto his back, Jadoku quietly made his way to the door, slipping out again and relocking it behind him. He stood for a moment on the doorstep, palming the key before pocketing it. He might need it again, and they wouldn’t notice it was gone.

            Kyouji sighed, letting the tension drain out of him as he walked away from the café. Now he just needed to focus on finding somewhere to sleep.

                                                                                                                                                                   

            “Teddy, I’m telling you, you were half asleep, you’re probably remembering wrong.”

            Hiro moved about the café, seriously considering just closing up now that Ara had finished her morning shift. There was still no sign of Kyouji, so he’d have to do this himself. Even Wasabi wouldn’t be able to come in until late afternoon, if at all with tests just around the corner. Hiro could claim something about holiday hours if he had to, but he didn’t know if he really wanted to...

            “No, you forgot to lock the door.” Tadashi frowned, crossing his arms. “You aren’t sleeping enough, and you forgot.”

            “I’ll sleep when things settle down.” Hiro wiped off a table, attempting to keep clean seating available for incoming customers.

            He just had to keep this under control, as well as work the register. And make sure food was ready when it needed to be. And also clean the dishes (though Tadashi was trying to help with that, the hot water not affecting him, either.) And work with one less machine, since the possessed one decided it just didn’t want to do anything today. And-

            Hiro took a deep breath to help settle his thoughts, before realizing that he had to control the out breath to make sure not to accidentally spew fire. Not only bad for business, but Tadashi didn’t need to know yet. One crazy thing at a time.

            “Just have to make it to Saturday,” Hiro muttered under his breath.

            Tadashi followed after him as he made his way back to the counter. “It’s only Tuesday, Hiro.”

            “I know,” Hiro answered tiredly, popping the lid on a drink, as he called the number. He glanced at the clock, mentally pleading with the hands to move faster, but to no avail. “You and Honey Lemon were going to do more tests today, right? Or was that Wednesday?”

            “No, it’s today.” Tadashi pulled himself up to hang by his arms from the counter, letting his legs swing before dropping back down. He felt restless, like he could take twenty laps around the café and have energy to spare.

            “Right, okay, I wasn’t imagining things.” Hiro glanced over when Tadashi pulled himself up again, brow creasing in thought. “Are you getting taller?”

            “Very funny, knucklehead.” Tadashi once again dropped down, folding his arms and looking up at his brother.

            “No, really.” Hiro looked at him closely. “Now this is going to bother me…”

            Tadashi laughed. “Even if I am, it’s called growing, Hiro. Most people spread it out a bit more than you did.”

            “Hilarious.” Hiro turned back to address a customer as politely as he could manage, before taking a scrap of paper out of his small notebook and scribbling on it, passing it down to his brother. “Go stick this on the door, would you?”

            Hiro was closing the shop at 1:30 and no one could stop him. It was his café for now, and if someone didn’t like it, they could wait for Aunt Cass to come back. Her recovery was going far better than any doctor could have anticipated, to their awe and suspicion. With the development of his own abilities, Hiro was beginning to question the wisdom of having used Tadashi’s so openly. If this caused problems, being a beneficial thing, what could result from accidentally setting something ablaze…

            Tadashi came bounding back, beaming up at him and practically shaking with excess energy. Hiro grew more tired just watching him. He shook his head, pulling out his phone to see if Honey Lemon was available soon. After the time it took to fill another order, she responded that she would be, but she wanted to stop by a bookstore on the way over. It wasn’t too far away, and it gave Hiro an idea.

            “Hey, Teddy.” Hiro grabbed his brother’s attention. “How about you burn off some of that energy by going to meet up with Honey Lemon?” He nearly laughed at his own phrasing.

            …he was more tired than he thought.

            Tadashi shrugged. Maybe it would help to get out and walk around. “Where?”

            “Hold up.” Hiro checked his phone again. “She says she’ll meet at that little corner bookstore off 8th. You know where it is?”

            “Yeah, just past the river, right?” Tadashi shrugged on another jacket, ready to try and rid himself of the antsy feeling.

            “Can hardly be called a river right now, but yeah that.” Hiro nodded, grabbing another damp washcloth to clean tables with. “Take your phone with you.”

            Tadashi checked his pockets, having momentarily forgotten he owned one. Even in the past he hadn’t used it a ton, and now Baymax made a much nicer communication option. “Well… it’s out of battery.”

            “Don’t you charge it?” Hiro scolded. “Whatever, I’m sure Honey has a charger. I’ll have her text me when you get there.”

            Tadashi nodded hurriedly, practically bolting out the door, wondering if he could run the whole way.

            He could not.

            Previous stamina aside, Tadashi hadn’t accounted for the fact that every step of his former self now took at least two or three steps to cover the same distance. Pausing to catch his breath, Tadashi unzipped one of the jackets, tugging the inner one back from where the bunched up hood was pressed to his neck. It was odd that he felt warm, and fear crept into his gut before he realized the patch on his back still emitted a steady cooling sensation, one he’d almost grown accustomed to.

            Taking up a far more regular stride, Tadashi started counting streets, grinning when he got to the stone bridge. The store would be just around the corner, and he’d have made it in record time.

            It was chance really, that Tadashi even spotted him.

            He would have been completely out of sight coming from this direction unless one was looking. Curled up so that his back rested against the stone pillar that started the bridge, one leg swinging over the space that led down to what was left of the river, Kyouji hadn’t even noticed Tadashi yet. His gaze was fixed past his leg, interrupted only when he pulled his phone from his pocket for a moment, smiling at the screen in a way that wasn’t quite… right. A dark bag lay on the concrete beside his perch, and Tadashi’s mind couldn’t quite piece together what was wrong about that.

            It didn’t matter, he’d found him. Hiro’d been upset earlier, and while some bits of Hiro’s story of what happened didn’t make sense, he knew he hadn’t been able to contact Kyouji after it happened. Maybe he could convince him it was okay, it was just a mistake, after all. He could come back.

            Tadashi walked over, looking up at him. “Kyouji?”

            Kyouji startled out of his daze, glancing down at Tadashi as if trying to figure out if he was real. After a moment, he swung his leg back over the side of the ledge, dropping down to the bridge to stand in front of the kid. He stared down at him in confusion before speaking.

             “What are you doing out here?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Two Hours Earlier

                It had taken a bit of searching to find a place willing to cash a check, but eventually Kyouji was successful. Though the small gas station required a fee to do so, it was reasonable enough, and having money on hand for food, so that he wasn’t dependent on stealing any meal he needed, made it just that much easier to breathe. While he knew he needed to ration it, a small part of him wondered if he shouldn’t just splurge and then go do something crazy. It wasn’t like this task was going anywhere soon.

                With food in his stomach again, Kyouji set out aimlessly. He didn’t have a ‘next step,’ but he supposed he’d better figure it out soon. The annoying tinny ring of the phone in his pocket interrupted his thoughts. He was frankly surprised it still had battery, as the place he’d been the night before hadn’t had electricity to charge it. Himitsu’s ID flashed on the screen, and Kyouji flipped the phone in his gloved hand as he walked, debating if he could get away with not answering. Shaking his head, he turned into a side street, walking far enough into it that the noise of the cars and street trains wouldn’t overpower his voice before bringing the phone to his ear.

                “Hey,” Kyouji greeted as he hit the answer button, leaning against the wall of the narrow street. His pack cushioned his back against the uneven bricks, and if he’d had another foot of height, he might have been able to prop his feet against the opposite wall.

                “Was startin’ ta wonder if you’d been picked up.” Himitsu’s easy tone belied his words, and Kyouji rolled his eyes.

                “I’m a little faster than that…” He glanced towards a man and a woman arguing at the opposite end of the street as they made their way towards the place he was standing. Kyouji decided to ignore them. He wouldn’t bother them, and they’d do the same.

                Himitsu chuckled. “So, I guess ya got yer bag?”

                “Yeah, no problems.” Kyouji paused, thinking of what had almost happened. He could be done by now. All of this could already be over, but he’d hesitated. “They didn’t even know I was there.”

                Himitsu hummed and began to say something else, but Kyouji’s attention wasn’t on him anymore. The couple was looking over at him too many times for mere curiosity, especially if they were supposedly arguing. Maybe he was being paranoid, but as they drew closer, he couldn’t ignore the unease that settled in his stomach.

                “I’ll call you back.” Kyouji cut off whatever Himitsu’d been saying, getting a confused “What-“ before putting the phone in one of his pockets.

                He still had a syringe, but with two people headed towards him, he didn’t know which would be the better one to stick, versus the one he’d have to fight or flee. Kyouji turned to head back towards the busier street, thinking it’d dissuade… whatever was going on. Another, larger form stepped into the path in front of him, blocking his way.

                Great.

                “Oi, Shakuzai.”

                Kyouji didn’t recognize the voice, but if that’s how she was going to address him, he already knew what this was about. A flash of annoyance crossed his mind as tension crept into his muscles, preparing him for whatever was about to happen. His heartrate picked up as he tried to figure out a clean way out of this. They were just thugs. Probably.

                “Your old man’s vanished,” the woman continued as Kyouji turned towards her and her partner. She grinned as she held up a small scrap of paper. “But he told us what to look for.”

                Wonder what else he told them…

                The man beside her cracked his knuckles in a way that was probably supposed to be menacing. If that was the route they were going to try, odds were he hadn’t told them enough to keep them alive. Unsurprising. And not how Kyouji wanted things to go if he could help it. Besides, he didn’t have the time required for his face to heal if he took a blow, and this task was complicated enough without these idiots throwing in another wrench.

                “Now, if you know what’s good for you—“ The voice came from behind him, and Kyouji rapidly remembered why you shouldn’t turn your back on anyone, no matter how slow they looked.

                A hand covered Kyouji’s mouth to stifle him, and he was turned and shoved into the wall, head hitting the brick sharply. Kyouji’s vision spun as he gasped, jaw opening as pain lanced across his tongue. Not now… A copper taste flooded his mouth, tongue sliced open by his own fangs, and he grimaced in disgust just as the man pulled his hand back with a startled yelp.

                “He bit—“

                The rest of his sentence was cut off with a ragged scream, the man’s arm seizing up, even as his still working hand reached in desperation for his weapon. It wouldn’t help. He wouldn’t even have time to draw it. Even so, Kyouji managed to stumble a couple steps away from before coughing, spitting out a mix of blood, both his and the dying man’s, nearly retching at the thought.

                Of course that’s what they were for.

                The bitten man fell silent, choking in short gasps as his lungs stopped working. He collapsed to his knees, shaking violently, and Kyouji told himself to look away while he still could. A numb feeling settled over Kyouji’s mind, as if everything were happening distantly. Right. He’d almost forgotten. He wasn’t just strange. He was a monster.

                He turned and almost laughed, his mind failing to find a proper response to the twin looks of horror on the faces of the two in front of him as they watched their companion seize on the ground. Kyouji didn’t need to see, he already knew how it’d look. In a couple seconds he would stop.

                The guy ran first, and Kyouji let him go, still trying to convince his instincts or… whatever to power down. The woman remained frozen in shock. Shaking where he stood, Kyouji glared at her. So long as she was there, there was still a ‘threat’, but he dearly hoped she wouldn’t try to attack him. Whether he bit her or not, the result would be the same.

                Kyouji’s hands itched as he waited for her next choice. The gloves felt wrong, somehow, and he could feel the bandages pressed tightly against the areas of normal skin. Trying to ignore it, he took a step forward, and that was enough to snap her out of her daze. She took off, not sparing a glance behind herself as she ran.

                The second she was out of sight, Kyouji’s knees failed and he sat heavily, taking great care not to look at the corpse a short ways away from him. He braced himself against the wall as he tried to even out his breathing, knowing he wasn’t going anywhere until he had a semblance of calm. Kyouji’s head pounded, pain radiating from the back of his skull as the adrenalin wore off.

                After a moment, the fangs finally retreated, but the incessant itch in his hands didn’t. Kyouji growled in annoyance, attempting to pull off one of the gloves. He shouldn’t be able to feel anything through the scales without significant pressure—

                The glove caught, and Kyouji could see small green spikes poking through the dark fabric where the bandage didn’t cover. The sensation was unpleasant, like something had been shoved under a fingernail, and he quickly pulled the glove back in the other direction. That was new… but it looked like the gloves were staying on for the foreseeable future.

                As if they weren’t already.

                Kyouji nearly jumped out of his skin when his phone went off again, heartrate rocketing as he swore. He just wanted to be left alone. Remembering that he’d promised to call Himitsu back, he groaned. That meant he’d keep calling, if only to force him into keeping his word.

                Hands shaking from the fresh rush of energy, Kyouji dug his phone out of his pocket, trying not to breathe too deeply. The smell and taste of blood were beginning to make him feel sick. He’d barely accepted the call when Himitsu’s voice burst through the phone.

                “What the hell?”

                Kyouji winced, holding the phone a little further from his ear to help with the headache. He opened his mouth to respond, but couldn’t find any words that would suffice.

                So sorry for hanging up on you, but something came up and it didn’t end so well, so if you could just-

                “There’s this lil’ button on yer phone, usually ya press it to end a call. Which is what I think ya meant ta do, since ya sure as hell didn’t pick it back up after things went quiet—“

                Kyouji’s throat closed as he listened to Himitsu’s rant. He’d hung up, right? He was sure he…

                “—and what th’ hell was that screamin’?”

                He couldn’t reply. Clearly he hadn’t ended the call, and for whatever reason, Himitsu hadn’t either. But he’d just called again, hadn’t he? There was a moment of silence that Kyouji couldn’t bring himself to fill.

                “…Jadoku? …Are you there?” Himitsu’s voice was tight, prompting Kyouji to speak.

                “Yeah. I’m- I just…” Kyouji trailed off, not sure what he was trying to say. He heard a sigh through the phone.

                “Ya weren’t respondin’, so I had ta call again, just to make sure... What. Happened?” Himitsu’s demand would have been more compelling if his voice wasn’t shaking.

                “It—He’s dead.” Kyouji wasn’t going to look at it, and he unsteadily rose to his feet, strength having returned enough for that.

                “Who?” Himitsu asked, still confused.

                Kyouji shook his head, wincing as it throbbed. “I don’t know.” He reached a hand back to check the place of impact, forgetting he wouldn’t be able to feel anything, and had to use his wrist once he realized. Nothing unusual… that anyone would see, anyway.

                “You okay?”

                The pain must have registered in his voice more than he’d realized, and Kyouji paused to consider it. He didn’t end up answering.

                “Come on, talk to me.” Himitsu sighed, and Kyouji heard movement through the phone. “Where are ya, at least? And can ya think o’ anythin’ to ID this guy with, or whatever group he was in, or somethin’?

                Kyouji looked over finally, wishing he hadn’t. He was reminded of the many reasons his blood was never supposed to mix with another’s in any significant amount. He tried to keep his eyes on the clothes, looking for anything distinct, but his gaze kept returning to the face, and he had to look away again or risk becoming sick.

                “I’m not seeing any…” Kyouji finally answered. There was a pause.

                “…you’re still there?” The disbelief was evident in Himitsu’s tone, and while a part of Kyouji told him he should have left a while ago, he was still working on it. “Okay, okay, fine. There anythin’ someone could identify you with? Can deal with it while yer there.”

                “My blood?” Kyouji’s answer was more of a question. “Can they do that?”

                “Why is-“ Himitsu cut off his own question, saving it for later. “Yes, most likely. Ya have any water or somethin’? Peroxide’d be best, but I doubt you’ve got that right now.”

                “No.” If he had, he would have washed the taste from his mouth by now.  

                Himitsu pressed on. “Any loose cloth? Even his’d work in a pinch.”

                “Can I not?” Kyouji frowned heavily. He didn’t want to get any closer to, let alone touch this thing.

                Himitsu sighed, hearing the strain in his voice. “Whatever, I’ll have someone handle it. Just get outta there, I’ve already got yer location.”

                Kyouji went silent. That was a disquieting thought.

                “Ya hear me? Get out, wash up, wrap up, whatever, and call me back.”

                There wasn’t really room to argue. “…okay.”

                “Talk to ya soon. Ja ne.”

                Himitsu hung up, and Kyouji stared at the phone for a moment, before tucking it in his pocket again. Not sparing another glance at the body, he gave himself over to his instincts, turned tail, and ran.

               


 

                Cold water had never been more welcome. Kyouji mentally congratulated himself for remembering to stay out of sight until he found a safe house with running water, as opposed to walking the main streets as he was. He would have terrified someone for sure, probably enough to get the cops called on him.

                Thankfully, the gloves were able to come off now that he was calm, the odd reaction of his scales having faded. Only the bandages got soaked as he washed the mess off of himself, as he was unwilling to unwrap and rewrap his hands again. He traded out his shirt and jeans for some in his bag, changing quickly, and mindful to pick up any loose scales that fell from his arm. He would have to dispose of them and the ruined clothing later, but at least his jacket had come out unscathed.

                Kyouji braced his hands against the sink as another wave of nausea hit him. The man’s image refused to leave his mind’s eye. His blood hadn’t gotten any less potent over the years, and what it caused burned into his brain deeper with every time something like this happened. His head throbbed in time with his heartbeat, and he hoped it was just the stress making the injury feel worse, and not something actually serious.

                Washing out his mouth again, careful to mind the unhealed tears in his tongue, Kyouji had nothing to permanently remove the copper aftertaste. He’d just have to wait.

                Wanting a distraction, or at least something to do that didn’t involve scrubbing out the inside of his mouth until there was nothing left and then some, Kyouji pulled out his phone again. He’d promised to call back, and was frankly surprised Himitsu had waited so long already.

                Kyouji sat in front of the locked bathroom door, leaning against it and hoping no one got too desperate anytime soon. He selected the contact, the phone only getting one ring through before it was answered.

                “Ya good now?”

                Kyouji huffed out a small, broken laugh at that. “Not how I’d put it, but sure.”

                Himitsu tsk’ed at him, before continuing. “Yeah, well, ya don’t need ta go back, it’ll sort itself out. Just don’t be dumb ‘bout it, and you’ll be fine.”

                “Yeah...” Kyouji pushed his hand into his bangs, resting his head in his hand in an attempt to reach actual calmness.

                “So what was that, anyhow? Why’d ya kill him?”

                Kyouji shifted, doing his best to keep his mind from following that path again and substituting other images for the one he was trying to avoid. “Accident. Didn’t mean to. Really.”

                “Mhmm.” He didn’t sound convinced, sparking anger in Kyouji.

                “I’m serious,” He snapped. “I could have died the second I hit the wall and the same damn thing would have happened, whether I wanted it to or not, and just because I can doesn’t mean I want to, so—“

                “Okay,” Himitsu cut in. “Alright, sorry, I believe ya.”

                It took a second for what Kyouji had said to process. “What d’you mean, ya hit a wall? I mean, I know ya got hit by a van or somethin’, but ya said it didn’t really hit ya, and ya ain’t ‘xactly the sturdiest thing in the world-“

                “I’m fine.” Or he would be, just as soon as his head stopped pounding. “I swear.”

                A moment of silence from Himitsu’s end had Kyouji wondering if the call had been dropped, before: “Then ya wouldn’t object to meetin’ up? Don’t like doin’ this o’er the phone.”

                “I…“ Kyouji’s first reaction was to reject the idea, wanting to just hide away for a month or two. But not only was that probably not allowed, if left alone to think, he knew what his mind would eventually return to. “Sure, whatever.”

                “Alright, where?”

                Kyouji frowned. It wasn’t like Himitsu needed to be told, anyway. Apparently it took no time at all to locate him. “I’m going for a walk. Just find me.”

                “That’s—fine…” Himitsu sounded like he was about to argue, but changed his mind midsentence.

                With that, Kyouji hung up the phone. He probably should have been nicer, but he couldn’t find the energy to. It was draining enough to convince himself to stand and collect his things, the disposables tossed in a separate plastic bag. Once he’d gotten the bag into a dumpster so full of filth no one would want to touch it, he walked aimlessly along the street, no real destination in mind.

                A part of him wanted to test how readily Himitsu’s… whatever it was, could find him, but mostly he just needed to distract himself. There were plenty of people, living, breathing, unhurt people, on the street this early in the afternoon. It had the opposite of the desired effect, however, his mind morphing each person’s face to what he was trying to avoid thinking about, until he learned to just keep his eyes on the ground in front of him. He needed to find somewhere out of the way.

                Kyouji found it. He’d come across a bridge he must have passed over a thousand times, but he only just noticed how the end dipped to allow someone small enough to perch there, between the railing along the bridge ledge and a concrete pillar. The place was almost completely out of sight from the street, so he wouldn’t likely be bothered for ‘loitering’. He dropped his bag beneath it, hoisting himself up until he was settled comfortably. This would do.

                The water under the bridge might have come up to his knee if he went down and stood in it, but from up here, he could almost pretend it would be deep enough to dive into. It would be cold, that was for sure… He shook his head to clear his thoughts, before just allowing himself to stare blankly at the moving water below. It was an easy way to lose track of time, and not thinking about anything was easier than it seemed. Or perhaps he was thinking of a bunch of small things and forgetting right away. It made no difference.

                Kyouji almost didn’t recognize the sound of his phone’s messaging alert, and glanced down at it for a moment before checking it.

                ‘Be there soon.’ From a blocked number.

                There was only one person it could be, but why he felt the need to prevent return texts made no sense to Kyouji. And of course he’d already found him, he was just getting comfortable being alone. Kyouji smirked, not knowing how to feel about how easy it had been, but Himitsu had mentioned ways of finding him before. At least he was still being nice, even after Kyouji had responded like that.

                …Hopefully.

                Kyouji tucked the phone away, trying to ignore the part of his brain that reminded him that of course Himitsu was going to be nice until he got what he was in this for. Otherwise, he risked losing out on his ‘investment’ or whatever he’d called it.

                A small voice pulled him out of his thoughts.

                He was hallucinating. He’d hit his head too hard, and now he was seeing things. There was no way the universe was being this nice after what it’d just pulled. There had to be a catch. The kid was just… standing there. Staring up at him without a care in the world, as earnest as could be.

                Kyouji didn’t remember deciding to get off of the ledge, but his feet hit the ground solidly, and he was standing in front of him. He looked for a couple seconds longer, but Tadashi didn’t blow away in the wind or turn into some fire-breathing dragon, so he supposed he was real enough.

                “What are you doing out here?” Kyouji tilted his head, suppressing a wince at the movement.

                The café was a good distance away, and there was no one in sight that Tadashi, or was it Teddy right now, seemed to belong to. This couldn’t be right.

                “Just walking.” Tadashi smiled, holding his hands behind his back. “Hiro’s been busy with the café since you left, but I can manage.”

                “Oh. That’s—“ Kyouji’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But what about Ara? Can’t she help?” He knew the kid wouldn’t get all the details of what had happened, even if Hiro had seen something, but it wasn’t like Hiro was working alone.

                 “She only does mornings, I think.” Tadashi shrugged, fiddling with his hands, looking for words. As he did, he stared to the side at Kyouji’s bag, as if trying to remember something.

                Kyouji leaned against the side of the bridge, and had to remind himself that it wasn’t actually suspicious to put your hands in your pockets. His fingers brushed against the box still nestled there, and he could barely feel the grooves on it through the gloves. Kyouji knew it would be more dangerous to try anything in public, but he was running out of chances. The hardest part would be managing the syringe, even with years of practice, it was easy to slip up, and throw gloves into the equation—.

                “He’s not mad, you know.” Tadashi spoke up again, looking back up at him, and Kyouji glanced away. “I mean it, it’d be okay if you came back.”

                It wouldn’t. Kyouji knew that. Even if he put aside everything that he had to do, ignored the countdown for how long he had to do this in, and erased everything he’d already done, it wouldn’t work. It was… good that his hands were already messed up now, so he couldn’t try to convince himself that he could keep things hidden forever. He wasn’t going to be able to keep this from them, and it would be only a matter of time before something like today would happen. Maybe a glass would shatter, maybe his hand or arm would get caught in something, maybe—

                Kyouji flinched when Tadashi reached up to tug on his sleeve, and the kid frowned, but stopped and pulled away a little. “You’re coming back, right?”

                Breathing out shakily, Kyouji flipped the switch on the box, silently wondering how long it would take them to get there. He didn’t know how long the serum would work on a kid, but with a fully grown adult, he had roughly a minute window where they were unaware, and another where they were disoriented. A sick feeling rose at the back of his throat as he hoped it wouldn’t be too much for a kid, he really didn’t want a repeat of earlier…

                “I… don’t think that’d be a good idea, Teddy.” Kyouji answered hesitantly. He’d need to stall.

                “Why not?” Tadashi folded his arms over his chest, looking up at him challengingly.

                Kyouji looked down, shrugging. “It’s just not.” If you didn’t answer the question, they’d work harder for the answer.

                “But I already told you Hiro wouldn’t mind…” Tadashi frowned. “I could tell him not to ask anything if you did…”

                Scoffing, Kyouji shook his head with a wry grin, even as his hands trembled in his pockets from the anticipation. “Do you even know what happened?” He was curious how much Hiro might have shared.

                “Not really…” The kid didn’t look pleased about that.

                Kyouji hummed, he might be able to use that, but he didn’t want to make the kid want to leave. He didn’t have long to think on it, when a familiar face approached. Guess he’d found him.

                A calculating look passed over Himitsu’s face when he saw the two of them, and he checked something on the phone in his hands as he approached. His shoulders relaxed, a genuine smile softening his features, and he tucked the phone away.

                “Hey, Kyou.” Himitsu waved. “Told ya I wouldn’t be long. Who’s this?”

                Kyouji felt some of the tension ease out of his shoulders when Himitsu joined them. He knew what he was doing, and at worst, he’d have backup should something go south. “Hey. This is Tedd-Tadash- erm…” He trailed off, looking at Tadashi as a question of what to introduce him as, and also to keep him in the conversation.

                The kid sighed in false weariness, drawing a laugh from Himitsu. “Just call me Teddy… everyone else does.”

                “Alright, nice to meet you.” Himitsu tilted his head. “I swear, I’ve seen you somewhere before…”

                Kyouji wasn’t sure what it was, but something about the interaction felt too fake. He couldn’t place it though, and he was probably overthinking it, expecting everything to seem suspicious when no one else would care. The nerves were beginning to return, and would only get worse the longer they had to wait.

                “Kyou?” Himitsu was looking at him, and Kyouji realized he’d probably missed something.

                “Hm?”

                “Just wonderin’ what you guys were talking about… You okay?” Himitsu moved closer, looking at him with a hint of worry behind his eyes. The concern was unfounded. Kyouji’d see this through, and there wasn’t any backing out now. It wouldn’t be good for anyone’s safety.

                “I’m fine.” So long as he didn’t move his head too sharply, this was mostly true. “We were just talking… um, about me having to leave…” Kyouji trailed off, not sure where to take it from there.

                A dark look passed over Himitsu’s face. “You mean when he burned you?”

                What? That’s not what I told him. Kyouji frowned, glancing away. What’s he playing at?

                A pained sound came from the kid, and he took a step towards to Kyouji. “He burned you?” An odd look passed over Tadashi’s face before it became concern.

                “It doesn’t matter, Teddy.” Kyouji realized this was probably just to waste more time, and was honestly a pretty good idea. “It’s done now.”

                Tadashi frowned, considering something before he spoke again. “Are you still hurt?”

                That was an odd question, but Kyouji supposed that was a child for you. “Kid, there’s nothing you can do.”

                “But what if there was?” Tadashi looked down at his hands, and if trying to decide something. “Would you come back then?”

                Kyouji didn’t know how to answer that. Teddy didn’t know what he was talking about, but he didn’t know how to answer the kid without giving something away, or making him suspect something. Himitsu spoke before he could reply.

                “What, so it could just happen again?”

                There was thinly veiled anger in his voice that Kyouji didn’t understand, and the kid looked down solemnly… almost guiltily. Kyouji’s confusion didn’t abate; it was like these two were talking in a code he couldn’t decipher. But this was just a kid, right? Maybe that’s all it was, that Himitsu knew how a kid would think, and so could talk to them.

                Himitsu’s phone gave a small chirp, breaking the tension, and he checked it, turning to Kyouji. “Oh, Bella wants to know if you’re coming to the party later.”

                Himitsu chuckled easily at Kyouji’s confused look, covering for him. “Told her you’d forget, but she might actually kill ya this time if you skip out again.”

                What—Oh!

                “Yeah, yeah.” Kyouji let one of his hands fall to his side, syringe still hidden. “I already said I would.”

                “Good, ‘cause she wants help setting up.” Himitsu sent out a quick text. He turned to Tadashi, grinning easily, previous anger gone. “I’d invite you, too, but no minors. Sorry, kid.”

                “Aww.” Tadashi crossed his arms, pretending to be upset.

                “Life’s just so unfair,” Himitsu teased.

                “Rude.” Tadashi looked away, huffing.

                Shoki’s van pulled up in front of them, stopping at the shoulder of the road, and concealing them fully from the view of the street.

                “Hey, you guys coming?” Bella leaned out the passenger side window, or at least Kyouji was fairly sure it was Bella. She looked like a normal person without the Fujita makeup, but she was no less exuberant… or terrifying. But maybe that was just Kyouji.

                “Chill, Bella, you’re going to fall out like that.” Himitsu remained unaffected as he dragged the door open.

                “Am not!”

                An odd calmness settled over Jadoku, as if he were only playing a part, following a script that he’d practiced well. The kid was turned away from him, watching Himitsu and Bella’s antics, having no reason to watch his back. The syringe was prepped, and even with the gloves, it’d be fine. This wasn’t a time for thinking, because stopping to think would cost you the mark. And that’s all this was. Another mark.

                Not giving himself time to consider it, Jadoku moved forward, sticking the needle in the back of the kid’s unguarded neck. Please don’t kill him. In the second it took to put the syringe away, Tadashi had collapsed silently, and Jadoku caught him, easily picking him up.

                This kid’s light.

                “He okay?” Himitsu gestured towards the child in his arms.

                The couple seconds it took to gather up his backpack and carry the kid over to the open door would have been all the time it would take for a bad reaction. He was still breathing, simply frozen in place.

                Jadoku nodded, the ache in the back of his head reawakening, though he tried to act as if it hadn’t. He passed the kid over and pulled himself into the van, still feeling like he was simply going through motions.

                The door closed behind him and Shoki pulled out, driving away from the downtown area. Bella hopped the seat to the back, dragging out a small bag from the back of the cargo area.

                “Well, that went smoothly,” Bella commented brightly as she dug around for the items she was looking for.

                “Wasn’t it supposed to?” Jadoku watched warily, subconsciously placing himself between her and where the kid had been laid out, still dazed from the shot.

                “He talks!” Bella laughed, before considering his question. “Mm, maybe. Kinda boring, though.” She unwrapped a set of straps, going to move past Jadoku, frowning when he remained in her way.

                “What are you doing?” Jadoku didn’t trust her, but so long as the kid was left alone, he could deal with the part of his mind that was trying to catch up with him, the one reminding him of all the reasons he shouldn’t have done this.

                “Listen, I get he’s your catch or whatever, and if you want him ripping open the door and screaming, be my guest.” Bella smirked, raising an eyebrow. “But unless you’ve got another one of them little sleeper shots, I’d suggest moving.”

                Jadoku opened his mouth to protest that they didn’t need to when Himitsu tugged on his jacket sleeve, pulling him to sit with him to keep him from digging his own grave. He caved, joining him on the seat since logically, yes, they probably did need to keep him quiet and still, even after the effects of the serum wore off. He was already stirring. But Jadoku hadn’t thought this far, and everything was beginning to grate against him.

                Bella hummed, grinning wickedly as she knelt to begin securing the kid. “Ten bucks J snaps before we get there.”

                “Wouldn’t matter. He’s done, you’re not.” Himitsu frowned, glaring at her.

                Jadoku didn’t appreciate them talking about him like that, as if he weren’t there, but anything to keep his attention from the form on the floor was welcome. He firmly fixed his gaze on the door to the outside.

                “You just want to spoil my fun.” She made quick work of the restraints, undeterred by Himitsu’s glaring. If anything she took it as encouragement, and continued in a false low voice.  “‘Don’t touch Jadoku, don’t go after the kid without him, don’t pick fights, blah, blah.’” She snickered. “You know, I’d say that-“

                “Bella.” Himitsu cut her off, and Jadoku didn’t think he’d ever seen someone manage to be both amused and annoyed at the same time.

                “Fine, fine, suit yourself.” She passed by on the way to the front seat, patting his cheek. “Anyway, that should hold him. Sure you want to take him in live like this?”

                Jadoku’s gaze snapped to her, but she was still speaking solely to Himitsu.

                “Knockin’ him out’d cause damage we don’t need.” Himitsu shook his head.

                Oh. ‘Live’ as in awake, not as in… well, not dead.

                “Besides,” Himitsu leaned back, relaxing. “Jadoku’s solution worked best for this. Not every mission needs to end with blood.” His tone took on a teasing note, making Jadoku wonder just how often it did.

                “Says you.” Bella pouted, resting her head on the back of the seat, and looking back at Jadoku. “Still bummed I didn’t get to fight you.”

                “Excuse me?” Jadoku looked at her in confusion.

                She grinned widely. “We wouldn’t be here if all you needed was a getaway driver.”

                Shoki spoke up from the driver’s seat, speech short and matter-of-fact. “Himitsu’s word will only get you so far. We were, and are, insurance.”

                The unspoken threat jarred Jadoku’s already shaken sense of security. It’s not like they could know about the chances he’d given up that would have finished this job earlier. Unless they did, and they just wanted him to finish the job first, and then deal with him. Which was becoming entirely likely, and—

                “’Ey, so long as he doesn’t drop-kick the kid out before we get there, we have no need for that.” Himitsu answered lightly, but there was hidden steel in his words.

                “So you claim.” Shoki remained skeptical, but Bella simply laughed.

                “Wonder how far he’d get him. Oh! If he kicked him out the back, he’d go further, wouldn’t he?”

                Jadoku tuned them out, wishing the van had more windows than just those at the front so he could see where they were going, or at least have something to distract him while they drove. They’d travelled a while, and he hadn’t the slightest idea where they were headed, only that it was to…

                His mind screeched to a halt and he tensed. Right. They were headed straight towards the man that would easily hand him over to have who knows what done to him. The only thing stopping him was his supposed word, which really, Himitsu had conveyed, so his future freedom depended on Himitsu’s word that Taishou’s word was valid. Great. Perfect.

                But he supposed there was nothing to do about it now but worry about it. It wasn’t like he deserved anything better. And maybe- Jadoku recalled the events of earlier that day with a grimace- maybe it would even be for the best…

                Jadoku felt pressure build up behind his ears, and he relaxed his jaw to some relief, hearing them ‘pop’ as it released.

                “I’ll never get used to taking this route.” Bella pouted, rubbing at her own ears. “There’s no way these walls are that sturdy, the whole bay’s gonna fall down on top of us.”

                “It’s lasted fer this long, it’ll last one more trip.” Himitsu pointed out. “Ya don’t have a problem when it’s hundreds of pounds o’ earth above us.”

                “That’s solid, it’ll hold itself. You can make bridges out of earth, you can’t out of water.”

                Jadoku looked through the front window, seeing nothing but lights dotting the two-lane tunnel. Wait. They were under the bay? When could they have possibly… But then Jadoku remembered that he’d sort of zoned out, and couldn’t even say with any certainty how long they’d been in the van.

                “Either way, we’re almost out.” Shoki pointed at the red lights at the end that grew closer and closer.

                She rolled down the window on approach, and the cool air that drifted in was as damp as the foggiest day in San Fransokyo. The atmosphere helped to settle Jadoku’s nerves, but not by much. There was still too much uncertainty ahead. They were waved through without even having to stop, and the silence that followed until they parked was stifling.

                There was a small group waiting for their arrival, and once the van doors were open, Jadoku wished one of his abilities included invisibility so he could just hide out in the van until someone took it outside again. That wasn’t an option, however, and with a gesture from Himitsu, Jadoku bent and picked up the kid. He was breathing, but he didn’t thrash as he’d almost expected, nor did the child make noise. Maybe the serum had had a worse effect than he’d thought. The kid was incredibly warm, or perhaps he was just cold.

                Jadoku approached the group, lowering the kid onto the stretcher they had laid out, and then backed away. He didn’t look at him. He couldn’t.

                I’m sorry.

                A man in a doctor’s coat moved forwards, supposedly to do checks on the kid. Jadoku distantly heard him make note of small initial observations.

                “He’s aware, he’s just staying quiet. Smart kid. Alright, let’s move.”

                As they left, Jadoku half expected to be dragged along with them, and flinched when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning, he saw it was only Himitsu, searching his expression for… something. Jadoku wasn’t sure what. The Fujitas had vanished, along with the van, their job done for now.

                Himitsu dropped his arm after a moment, slinging Jadoku’s backpack off his shoulder and holding it out to him. He’d almost forgotten. Jadoku accepted it, drawing comfort from having something on hand that was his. He fixed his gaze on the floor.

                “No chance of me just walking outside and leaving it at that, is there?” Jadoku was only half joking, but Himitsu laughed anyway.

                “Nah, not quite. Take ya a bit, too.” Himitsu grinned, glancing around. “Picture the tallest buildin’ in San Fransokyo. Now flip it upside down. That’s where we’re standin’. And we ain’t even on the bottom floor.”

                Jadoku tried to process that mental image, but there was just too much. They were underground. Got it. He couldn’t leave. Understood. Anything further could be dealt with later. There was too much vying for his attention, and this had been a long, long day.

                “Home sweet home and all.” Himitsu shrugged when he got no response, beckoning Jadoku to follow. “C’mon, don’t think he’s got a meetin’ today, and he’ll want to meet ya, whether he admits ta it or not.”

                “Wait, who?” Jadoku thought he knew, but he had to be sure… there’d been enough surprises for one day.

                Himitsu turned to face him again. “Taishou. Taishou-sama, Dr. Yamada, whatever he’s supposed ta be called.”

                Jadoku could almost physically feel the blood drain from his face and had to focus on not letting the dizziness overcome him. He’d known, so why was the confirmation still causing this? “I- I’ll pass…”

                “Whoa, hey.” Himitsu reached out to steady him, gripping his upper arms. “What’s wrong?”

                “He’ll—“ Jadoku couldn’t stop shaking. He’d accepted this, why couldn’t he just…

                When Jadoku didn’t continue, Himitsu desperately tried to figure out why he was suddenly so terrified. Then it came to him.

                “No, no, Jadoku.” He shook his head, trying to figure out what would help. “Just relax, you’re in the clear. Ya did as ya were told. It’s over. Now there’s nothin’ to worry about, it’s outta your hands, understand?”

                He tried to, he really did. But the only way Jadoku was going to go to Taishou is if Himitsu physically dragged him. Himitsu seemed to get the gist from Jadoku’s facial expression, sighing and letting go.

                “Not today, then. Can’t promise he won’t call for ya, but let’s getcha settled first.”

                Jadoku slowly nodded at that, following after Himitsu as he muttered something about needing to get him a map.

 


 

                Hiro’s heart was in his throat. “Honey Lemon, Tadashi left forty minutes ago when I texted you.”

                “Yes, I know that, Hiro, but he’s not here.” Her franticness was tangible through the phone. “Are you sure you told him the right place?”

                “I’m sure. Bookstore off 8th. That’s where you are, right?” Hiro’s hands started to shake as his unfortunately expansive imagination began to do its work.

                “Yes, that’s it! Could he have gotten lost?”

                Hiro shook his head, forgetting she couldn’t see it. “He’s not actually five, and he probably knows the city better than I do.”

                Struck by a sudden idea, Hiro turned and sprinted up the stairs, taking them two at a time. When he finally got to the red crate tucked in the corner of the room, he kicked the side of it.

                “Baymax! Ow!”

                Baymax inflated, blinking at Hiro. “Hello, Hiro. Are you here for another-“

                “No. Scan the city for Tadashi.” Hiro cut him off, glad he’d decided to make the upgrade a part of Baymax’s standard abilities.

                “A moment. Scanning.”

                Come on…

                “Scan complete. Tadashi’s location is: Unknown.”

                Hiro froze. “…what? That’s- what do you mean, unknown!?”

 

Chapter Text

                “Check again,” Hiro demanded as he paced around the garage area, exhaustion that had built up over days only fueling his angry steps as he shook with directionless energy. He was ready to go out and tear the city apart to find his brother, but he didn’t even know where to start. If he searched the wrong places first, he could miss him and risk losing him if he wasn’t fast enough. But if this took too much longer…

                “Hiro.” Baymax acknowledged with something that sounded like weariness. “No changes have been made as to Tadashi’s current location. I will inform you-“

                “Check. Again.” Hiro’s teeth gritted together as he rounded on the robot, and if it weren’t for the others gathered, he might have let out some of the fire that he could feel growing in his core. So far only Fred knew about that little detail, and he didn’t have time to give everyone else a rundown. It would have to wait.

                “Hiro, stop.” Gogo frowned over at him from where she’d perched on the arm of the couch. She’d been the second to arrive, only beaten by Honey Lemon, who’d been just around the corner. “He can’t do anything more right now. You need to file a report with the police, and-“

                Shaking his head, Hiro resumed his pacing. “No. That’d cause too many problems. Besides—“ he threw himself down on the couch in frustration, but quickly stood again, not wanting to sit even for a moment. “If he’s somewhere Baymax can’t find, he’s probably somewhere they can’t go. Plus, they’d tell us not to get involved and that is not an option.”

                The team exchanged concerned looks, and Fred in particular was worried about Hiro’s more volatile state, knowing it wouldn’t take much to trigger a reaction. This was, unbelievably, calmer than he’d been earlier, when Hiro’d practically shrieked over the phone in panic. They all had gathered after a series of frantic calls and text messages to make sure Tadashi hadn’t somehow made his way to one of them. But of course he hadn’t. That would have been too easy.

                “Hiro, they can’t help if they don’t know there’s a problem.” Wasabi rested his hand on Hiro’s shoulder, only to be shrugged off harshly. After the phone call, Wasabi had never been more glad for a class letting out early. However, now that he was there, he was met with a Hiro blinded by rage, unwilling to do what seemed to him the logical next step, and it unsettled him. He hadn’t seen him this riled up since Callaghan’s actions had come to light.

                Fred nodded in agreement, leaning on the back of a chair. “Yeah, man. I can get people to look, but the police can do a lot more than we can by ourselves, and-“

                “And if they figure out what he is?” Hiro shot back, staring him down.

                “It’s not likely they would.” Fred crossed his arms, not backing down. “Anyway, is the chance they find out more important than finding him at all?”

                Hiro stood stunned for a moment, not having expected that from Fred, before cursing and turning away.

                “Fine,” Hiro spat. “We’ll have them look. I’ll just monitor their frequencies and try to get there first if they somehow get their incompetency under control and find him.”

                Wasabi and Honey Lemon traded looks, disliking Hiro’s approach to using the law enforcement, but not wanting to bring it up when he was this angry, lest he turn his ire on the group. Again.

                “And you have no idea where he might be?” Gogo flipped her helmet in her hands, ready to head out at a second’s notice. “No one you’ve pissed off lately?”

                “No? Maybe?” Hiro pulled at his hair in frustration. “Do you think I’d be here if I had even the slightest idea? He could be anywhere-“

                He stopped pacing abruptly, face morphing in rage to an outright snarl. “He wouldn’t.”

                The others glanced at each other in confusion, even as Hiro headed for the door.

                “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Wasabi stepped in his path, stopping him with a hand on his chest, nearly recoiling when Hiro growled in anger. “Care to clue us in?”

                “Isn’t it obvious?” Hiro felt his anger kindle fire in his chest again. Good, I’ll need it. “I should never have let Callaghan know he was back.”

                “Hold on.” Gogo joined them and Hiro suddenly got the feeling of being caged in. “Why would he even-“

                “Does it matter?” Hiro was ready to shove Wasabi to the side and charge out, certain he could move him with this excess of energy. “If he’s crazy enough to do what he’s already done, what’s to stop him?”

                “But why? He has his daughter again, why risk that?” Gogo held up her hands in exasperation.

                “I don’t-“ Hiro scrambled for a reason, trying to fit the pieces together. “Tadashi’s a witness, maybe he wanted to get rid of him…”

                Gogo sighed, shaking her head. “He’s already been declared innocent, they can’t charge him again, Hiro.”

                “Well then I don’t know, revenge then!” Hiro sidestepped to move past Wasabi, but was prevented from leaving. “He could have gotten out scott-free if Tadashi hadn’t gone in after- I don’t care why he did it!”

                “But Hiro, how would he?” Honey Lemon approached him gently, setting a hand on his back. “I’m all for finding who took Tadashi, but that would be too small a time window, he had no good reason, and-“ She cut him off before he could try to jump in again. “Tadashi could and would defend himself. He’s burned him before.”

                The others nodded, and Hiro was about ready to explode.

                “Do you even care?!” Hiro shouted, shoulders shaking.

                “Of course we do.” Fred asserted, slightly worried Hiro was going to lose it, and if the others didn’t know… “Hiro, calm do-“

                “I am calm!”

                Fred took a step back, but Hiro’s exclamation was thankfully fire free. Hiro wasn’t done, however.

                “You guys are ignoring our only lead!” Hiro raged. “If it’s not him we still have to search everywhere.”

                “Hiro, that’s impossible,” Gogo pointed out. “I’ll be right behind you in the search, but who says he’s even in San Fransokyo anymore?”

                 Hiro glared down at her, even as he realized she could be right. “Well, the longer we wait the further away he could get!”

                He turned to Wasabi, mentally demanding he get out of the way. His first priority had to be Tadashi, and he’d deal with consequences later. There’d be time to think later. He could deal with the fallout and anyone who tried to take his brother from him again later. Now was time for action.

                “Find your suits and meet me back here as fast as you can,” Hiro ordered. “We’re heading out as soon as I file with the police. Callaghan’s place first.”

                “Hiro, no.” Wasabi refused to budge. “If we go after Callaghan, we’d better have more than just a hunch. If we just barge into his home, he could legally have us arrested-“

                “Who cares?” Hiro shook with fury. “I’ve been in a holding cell before, it’s not that bad, and they can’t do anything more-“

                “They can,” Gogo pointed out, realizing Wasabi was on the right track, “if there’s a history of harassment or a threat to someone’s life.”

                “Well, they’ll change their minds when we reveal he was keeping a kidnapped child there,” Hiro ground out.

                “Assuming he did do it, would he be stupid enough to keep him at his home?” Gogo shook her head. “The only thing that’d accomplish is tipping him off and assuring we never got him back.”

                “So we just, what, let him get away with it? Again?

                Gogo rested her helmet on her hip, frowning at Hiro. “No. That we do not do. You go to the police, file a report, start a legal investigation, and if it’s him, he won’t be able to slip through the cracks again. If we do this right, we win. I’m all for taking action, but if what happened five years ago repeats, I will not. Be. Happy.”

                “Fine.” Hiro knew he wasn’t going to win this one, and Gogo was right. If evidence were to be discarded because of their methods of attainment again there’d be nothing to stop Hiro from going for Callaghan’s throat. “We’ll do it your way.”

                Wasabi hesitated, but moved aside, allowing Hiro passage. Before Hiro could go much further, a voice interrupted him.

                “Who could even touch him when he’s like that?” Honey Lemon muttered, gaze fixed on the ground, lost in her thoughts.

                “I don’t know.” Hiro didn’t care about the ‘how’ though. He stalked past Wasabi towards the door. “But they’ll wish they’d never been born.”

 


 

                A rush of dizziness had Jadoku sitting before he’d even thought to, limbs shaking as he supported himself against the false wall that separated him from the tiled room on the other side. The pricking sensation still hadn’t faded from his arm, despite the hours that had passed and the single, tiny scale that shielded the site. He hated needles, more so when he wasn’t the one controlling them. He shook his head, quickly regretting it and leaning his forehead against the cool glass. This was fine, it would pass. It wasn’t like he had to go anywhere soon.

                “I’d’ve thought you’d be anywhere but here,” Himitsu commented, walking up beside him and tapping on the glass that separated him and Jadoku from the room beyond. He crouched down to sit next to him, taking in his weary countenance.

                Jadoku twitched in a miniscule shrug, remaining silent and keeping his gaze fixed through the one-way glass. The past couple of days underground had been surreal, cut off from the rest of the world as if it didn’t exist. Outside of a few… mandatory procedures, he’d been left to his own devices… mostly. He tugged absentmindedly at the black cuff on his right wrist, seeing the small green light for a moment before it was concealed again. Useful, but deadly… wasn’t everything around here?

                Still, it hadn’t been too bad down here, and it had been relatively easy to find the things he needed, with and without help. If it weren’t for the pain still itching at the crook of his arm, nothing would feel real. He could almost pretend none of this was happening.

                But it was. This place had taken him a couple of days to find, and while there was no easy way into the room that he had seen, not that he’d been super concerned with finding one, this viewing room would do. If he could assure with his own eyes that the kid wasn’t being hurt… maybe he could learn to live with this.

                “Maybe not such a surprise, actually.” Himitsu leaned against the partition, undeterred by the lack of response as he studied Jadoku’s expression. “I get yer worried, but ya didn’t hurt ‘im. Nothing serious, anyhow. A pinprick’s hardly gonna—“

                “It could have killed him.” Jadoku cut him off, but his gaze didn’t waver, as if looking away would allow them to… do whatever they wanted with the kid.

                “Ya didn’t.” Himitsu shrugged. “And so long’s he’s here, he’ll be fine. No worse off than you.”

                Jadoku had his doubts. Since he’d found this place, the kid had been mostly unconscious, lying in what looked like a hospital bed, but with… more. He couldn’t tell half of the things the machines were meant to do, and with nurses and assistants flittering around constantly, there was no single task to try and figure out. It all seemed excessive. But even if what Himitsu said were true…

                “And when he’s passed on?” Jadoku was aware this entire mess was still unfinished, and so long as the kid remained here, he was stuck too. However, if the alternative meant throwing the kid to the wolves, it wasn’t that bad down here. Just as long as he didn’t try to leave. Or attack somebody.

                “Not our problem then.” Himitsu stretched, folding his arms in front of himself.

                Jadoku knew better than to argue, and his attention shifted when Tadashi stirred, prompting a nurse to attend to him. She added something to a small bag above his bed, and after a few moments he stilled again.

                “Why does he keep waking up?” Jadoku wondered aloud. This hadn’t been the first time since he’d started watching, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last.

                Himitsu turned, looking through the window with curiosity, as if trying to understand a puzzle. “That’s the interestin’ bit. What do you know about how anesthesia works?”

                Jadoku shook his head. Anything medically related was almost completely foreign to him.

                Unperturbed, Himitsu continued. “Well, his body is ‘fixing’ it, in simple terms.” He moved so that he was fully facing the other room, eyebrows furrowed in interest. “Blood samples show he’s adaptin’ to whatever he’s given, and nothin’ previously used works again.”

                “Nothing?” Jadoku eyed the bag the nurse had messed with. “And that’s… not normal?”

                “Nope.” Himitsu frowned, turning to Jadoku again. “And yeah, nothing. Not even you.”

                “Me?” Jadoku stared in shock. How could they know that? Unless… that’s what it was for. They’d certainly have enough.

                “Yeah, at least not in the same doses.” He hummed, tapping against the glass absentmindedly. “How else d’you think we’ve kept him out this long? But soon e’en your blood won’t be enough.”

                Himitsu sighed after a moment, talking to fill the silence. “We can’t hold him like this much longer, but it should do. We’ll drop him off after the final possible dose, and then it’s little Yama’s problem.”

                “You’re going to kill him.” Jadoku felt panic stir inside of him; this wasn’t something to play around with. The images from a couple days ago were still fresh on his mind, echoing on top of what he could see.

                “First off, not me.” Himitsu pointed at Jadoku, before relaxing the gesture and lifting another finger. “Second, they won’t. He’s too valuable. We might need him again someday. For now, we've got a couple days, tops.”

                Right.

                That.

                Jadoku still didn’t understand all of the details, but from what little he’d been able to gather through observation, this kid… wasn’t normal either. It was a fresh punch in the gut for there to finally be someone who might have understood, just for it to turn out like this. But what did it really matter? It was just a kid. They couldn’t help each other even if they wanted to. It could have turned out worse, at least. They were both still alive…

                “You’re sure?” Jadoku inclined his head, uncertain when Himitsu’s word had become something to even partially trust. It wasn’t like there was anyone else he could ask, though.

                “Positive. They’re still only usin’ a fraction of the amount they could use, but he’s goin’ down slower and slower each time.” Himitsu stood, scuffing his shoe on the floor. “Like I said, we ain’t got long.”

                Humming, Jadoku leaned his chin on his knee, watching the other room. He’d stay here until hunger forced him to move, and maybe next time he could try to bring something, at least until it was time to pass the kid off.

                “Oi.” Himitsu was still standing there, digging through his pocket. Jadoku found it surprising he hadn’t left yet. “’fore I forget. We found this on the kid, but it was already dead. Not that it’d have worked down here anyway…”

                When Himitsu held up a phone, Jadoku found a strange relief in the fact it was a machine that’s battery was dead, not… anything else that could have applied to. He wasn’t surprised a five year old had a phone like that, but the thought still didn’t sit well with him.

                “Already pulled any useful information offa it, and it was your steal.” Himitsu turned the phone over in his hands. “Wonderin’ if you’d want me to repurpose it.”

                “And that would…” Jadoku trailed off, wanting Himitsu to answer through completion.

                “Well, it’d give me a project. I’m kinda bored cooped up here, even with all there is.” Himitsu grinned, shrugging. “And a plus’d be you’d stop using that abomination ya call a phone.”

                Jadoku bristled. “It works just fine.”

                “Sure, sure.” Himitsu laughed. “I’ll mess with it anyway, lemme know if ya change yer mind.”

                “What, so it can be rigged to electrocute me if I step out of line too?” Jadoku muttered, glaring at his wrist.

                Himitsu glanced away. “Just a precaution. Not even its main purpose, ya know.”

                Jadoku didn’t respond. The other uses had been explained by a rather terrified looking man after he’d been given it, but it was clear the main purpose was just that. The man had been glancing at the cuff as if to assure himself the entire time he’d spoken, and had stayed more than an arm’s length away. The others had been just as reluctant to approach him unless absolutely necessary. Just what did they think he was going to do?

                “Oh, right, reason I came.” Himitsu hadn’t just remembered, but now was as good a time as any to bring it up. “Taishou’s sent for ya. He’s workin’ on something, but he’ll at least be here today, so ya need to stop by. Technically supposed to take you once I found ya, but…” Himitsu shrugged.

                Clenching his fists and hearing the scales slide against each other, Jadoku tensed, feeling his heartrate pick up and distantly knowing it was being recorded. He’d avoided going thus far, and things had been fine. For the most part. This place was so vast that avoiding certain places had been simple, and quite frankly the few people he’d come across had steered clear, though not all had appeared frightened when they’d done so. If he had to guess, Jadoku would assume those in particular were just following orders, which was… odd, to say the least.

                He breathed out shakily, the head rush from unintentionally holding his breath only adding to the lingering dizziness and not making anything easier. Jadoku supposed he’d have to go eventually, but did it really need to be so soon?

                “C’mon, up ya get.” Himitsu offered a hand down to him, bringing his attention back to him.

                Jadoku stared blankly at the proffered hand. Had Himitsu already forgotten? He didn’t have his gloves anymore, not that anything down here would require it, but he hated it, and kept his hands in his pockets whenever he could, current circumstance aside. What was so hard about getting the gloves back to him after the inspection? Apparently everything, but he didn’t want to bring it up and give them cause to think of him as ‘subverting their authority’ or something. He still wasn’t sure where he stood.

                Either way, Himitsu must not have noticed. The room was dim enough to excuse it, and without a lot of light to reflect, the scales could have almost been seen as black. After a moment, Jadoku’s morbid curiosity got the better of him and he reached up and accepted the hand, waiting for him to recoil.

                Himitsu simply tightened his grip, easily pulling Jadoku to his feet, steadying him until the head rush passed. The black spots in his vision and the confusion mixed to create unsteady footing, but after a second the room stopped spinning. Jadoku looked up at Himitsu, trying to figure him out. What was he playing at?

                Himitsu nodded towards the door, heading out and clearly expecting Jadoku to follow. “C’mon, we’ve kept him waitin’ long enough.”

  


 

                Saturday morning, Hiro marched up to a door, pounding on the wood with enough force to shake it in its frame.

                He’d filed with the police days ago, but while they’d said they’d post alerts to have people keep an eye out for him, they’d need to wait to do anything more drastic until it was clear this was anything more than a child taking a wrong turn on the way somewhere. In the time it had taken for them to decide it was serious, Hiro had already scoured a quarter of the city with Baymax… as well as he could without causing ‘trouble.’ The sun set and rose and set again, and there was no sign of Tadashi anywhere.

                Thanksgiving had been a somber occasion, only a formality and a chance to let Aunt Cass know what had happened. It was the first full meal Hiro had allowed himself to sit down to eat since he’d started, and he had taken off just as soon as he could. Aunt Cass, only just able to walk again (though this was viewed as some form of miracle by her physical therapists) was hit with how little she could do to help, even this second time her oldest nephew needed her. All she could do was watch Hiro drive himself into the ground in his search, the café closed for the time being for a ‘family emergency’.

                 The team joined him when possible, but try as they might, they simply couldn’t drop everything to aid with the search. The only exception was Fred, who would tag along whenever he could catch Hiro, but was always swiftly informed to go search elsewhere, that they didn’t need two people searching in the same place. They were glad that Hiro had Baymax with him at all times, to keep him relatively safe or at least aware of his physical limits. They were wrong.

                Hiro no longer needed Baymax to zip around the city. Previously, he had designed boots that, along with built-in shin guards he knew he needed, had flight capabilities. Over the years, he’d developed prototypes for himself as a side project, creating boots and a wing pack that fit in well with his old design. If Baymax could do it, why not him? It had been just for fun at the time, as Hiro hadn’t needed them once the team was disbanded, but now was as good a time as any to test them out for real.

                In between searches, Hiro spent much of his time at the police station, attempting to convince the police to look into Callaghan. Time and again they asked for something concrete to base a warrant on, and just as Gogo had predicted, his reasoning was ignored. Friday morning had resulted in a seemingly positive response, but twenty four hours later had Hiro convinced they’d only said they’d look into it to get him out of the station. That had been the final straw.

                Hiro’d shot off a text to the group, alerting them to the change in plans, and headed straight for Callaghan’s. He knew that time was of the essence, and if the police weren’t going to help, he’d do things himself.

                He was ready to knock again when Abigail answered the door, a concerned look on her face. Before she could even ask, Hiro stepped forward, looking down at her and demanding:

                 “Where is he?

                “Wh-“ Confusion colored her expression, and Hiro nearly pushed past her to get inside. “Hiro, wait, what are you-“

                “Where is he!?” Hiro shouted, out of patience and out of time.

                “Excuse me?” Confusion faded and bloomed into anger. Abigail had noticed some of the quips and hateful remarks Hiro had made towards her father over the years, and while she’d be the first to admit the man wasn’t perfect, this was getting out of hand. “My father isn’t in right now, and even if he-“

                “Stop lying, there’s no way you aren’t in on this,” Hiro snarled, waiting for the others to arrive before he would force his way in. Or perhaps that was a mistake, and Callaghan was already escaping. “And I’m sure you know all about what really happened five years ago, so if you don’t show me where my brother is right now, you’ll be in the same boat as him.

                “My father is innocent!” Abigail had had enough of this. “I don’t know where your brother is, but if you do not leave this instant I will call the police and have you arrested for trespassing and harassment!”

                “Real likely, you-“ Hiro was cut off when he felt a hand on his arm, and he whirled around ready to attack. He could feel his fire building, all it would take was a spark.

                Gogo was glaring up at him, helmet in hand. “Hiro. Come with me. Now.”

                “But-“ Hiro turned back towards the house, only to have the door slammed in his face, the lock echoing as the deadbolt was thrown. He stepped forward, hoping that the door would give to a little firepower. He wasn’t keen on burning down the house while Tadashi was still inside.

                “Hiro Hamada, if you don’t get on the bike right now, so help me-“

                Hiro threw up his hands. “What, so they can just drive off into the sunset, happy as can be that they won again?”

                “Hiro.” Gogo was beyond done with this. “That’s not what’s going on here, and if you’d take a second to use that brain of yours, you’d know that!”

                “No! Am I the only one who sees this?” Hiro stormed over to the bike, knowing that short of ripping the house to pieces, he probably wouldn’t find anything now. “First you guys, then the police-“

                “You just made their jobs harder, Hiro!” Gogo followed after him, not willing to turn her back on him in case he did something foolish. Again. “You can’t just act like this, if I hadn’t stopped you-” Gogo glanced around, noticing something was off.

                “Hiro, where’s Baymax?” She fixed him with a pointed look.

                Hiro huffed, pulling out his phone to check. “Searching the North Waterfront.”

                “He’s supposed to be with you, that’s the only reason we haven’t stopped you before. What were you thinking?” 

                “I was thinking that if none of you were going to do anything-“

                “Hiro, you told us yesterday that the police were beginning their investigation, and now you just-“ Gogo broke off with a noise of frustration. “They can’t do their job when you act like this.”

                “No! This is just like the first time!” Hiro’s fury put a red haze over everything, he could barely form thoughts into words instead of just screaming. “They have done nothing! They have found nothing!”

                “You tearing through the city didn’t turn up anything either, Hiro,” Gogo pointed out, shoving a spare helmet at Hiro. She just needed to get him back to the café, none of this was accomplishing anything.

                Hiro gaped at her, floundering for words for a moment. Didn’t she understand? “Well, at least I’m trying.”

                “At what cost?” Gogo shook her head, snapping her own helmet back into place. “Nothing good will come of this. You’re just lucky it was Abigail who answered.”

                Scoffing at Gogo’s words, because wasn’t it just convenient Callaghan was ‘out’ when he came to call, Hiro finally joined Gogo on the motorbike. Baymax could search for now, and he’d just sneak out later to rejoin him. Maybe it would be good to get a little food during this forced break.

                “I’m going to find him, no matter what it takes.”

                Gogo nodded, not in agreement, but in confirmation. She knew that’s exactly what he would do. That’s what scared her.

 


 

                Early the next morning, Hiro bolted awake, cursing himself for having fallen asleep. He’d wasted so much time. Tugging on the boots that were admittedly far more bulky than the sneakers he was used to moving in, Hiro reconnected his comm-link to Baymax.

                “Status update,” Hiro commanded as he reattached his gauntlets and reached for the pack to slip over his shoulders.

                “One moment, Hiro. Activating full-scan now.”

                Hiro buckled the pack into place, making sure all the straps were tight so that it wouldn’t come loose during flight, waiting for Baymax to scan the city. A full scan drained too much battery if used continuously, especially in the long-term as they had been doing. It wasn’t long before Baymax spoke again.

                “Hiro. I have a reading.”

Chapter Text

                Jadoku resisted the urge to scuff his feet along the floor as he walked a step behind Himitsu, letting him lead the way. He’d somehow thought they’d turn the corner and suddenly be wherever Taishou was holed up, but the longer they walked, the more lost Jadoku became. Perhaps he should have taken Himitsu up on his offer of a map. At least then he’d have a relative idea of where they were, instead of depending on Himitsu to get them back to where they’d been. If there was going to be a return trip at all…

                This place was far more vast than his own wanderings had even begun to cover, and Jadoku had doubts there was an end. His hands clenched where they were hidden in the pockets of a thin jacket that he’d been provided, fingernails scraping uselessly along the scaled flesh, as Himitsu turned down another hallway. Just how much further did they need to go? The trip had already dragged out long enough to wear down any resolve Jadoku had dredged up, giving time for the seeds of dread to grow, disorientation building on the dizziness that still hadn’t subsided fully.

                 It didn’t help that Himitsu seemed to know, and be on good terms with, everyone they came across. The phantom feeling of a vice at Jadoku’s throat increased with every person the man in front of him stopped to talk to, with every person who acted like Jadoku wasn’t there, or worse, glanced at him every now and then in curiosity or fear.

                What, exactly, had they been told? Jadoku buried his hands further in his pockets. What did they know about any of this?

                After a pocket-sized eternity, the two eventually reached a promising set of doors. To the side of the closed entryway was a small, black panel with what at first glance looked like an intricate ‘4’ engraved on it. Jadoku wracked his brain to try and remember where he’d seen the symbol before, but didn’t have time to dwell on it when Himitsu unlocked and flipped up the casing on the panel, hiding the shape. Himitsu swiped a card, waited for the small indicator light to turn from red to yellow to green, and only then quickly entered a series of numbers into the keypad.

                Jadoku watched numbly as he swiped a second card at the end of the clearly practiced action, and the doors slid open to reveal the inside of an elevator. It no longer came as much of a surprise that Himitsu had that kind of knowledge or access. Shifting his stance uneasily, Jadoku realized he just had to accept that he knew basically nothing about him; that everything could change on his whim. Not a comforting thought at best.

                He moved forward as if to enter when Himitsu quickly reached out an arm to stop him, watching for some indicator Jadoku couldn’t discern. Whatever changed, he couldn’t spot it, but after a moment Himitsu relaxed and stepped inside, motioning for Jadoku to follow with a grin. An instant after Jadoku crossed the threshold, the door shut quickly behind him, a quiet clang echoing through the small space. Was this entire place some sort of death trap?

                Jadoku folded his arms as they began to descend, uncertain if leaning against the walls of the elevator to steady himself would activate some unknown sensor and blast him out of existence. This was ridiculous, and not doing anything to ease his mind. He startled when Himitsu verbally addressed him for the first time since he’d said where they were going.

                “Would’ja relax? Geez, ya act like I’m takin’ you to yer death or something.”

                “You mean you’re not?” Jadoku sniped back, trying to keep the tone in jest, but failing spectacularly.

                Himitsu scoffed, frowning over at Jadoku. “D’you really think we’d wait this long if that’s what we were gonna do?”

                Jadoku frowned.

                So now it’s ‘we’?

                “I don’t know.” Jadoku grit out.

                How could he just act like everything was that simple?

                “One day it’s ‘you need to go see him before you get dragged there,’ or whatever you said, and with that-“ Jadoku gestured at the door in frustration. “-I couldn’t have. I have no idea what any of you want from-“

                Jadoku cut off when the doors opened again, not having noticed that they’d finally stopped. Arrival scattered his train of thought, and Kyouji wanted nothing more than to just go back upstairs and pretend like none of this was happening. The Yama he was used to dealing with was bad enough, but at least there was some knowledge of what to expect, and quite frankly, he was laughable in the face of someone who had actual power. Kyouji’s words refused to return.

                “Well, ya can’t blame him for the extra security.” Himitsu’s frown eased up as he considered something, observing Kyouji’s rigid stance and sudden silence. “He’s not going to smite ya or anything if y’ain’t perfect, you know. He’s difficult to piss off.”

                Himitsu nudged him forward when he failed to respond, and Kyouji returned his hands to his pockets as he exited the elevator. He turned back when he didn’t hear Himitsu following.

                “Last door at the end o’ the hall. Y’ll know it when ya see it.” Himitsu nodded in the direction.

                Kyouji stared at him. He wasn’t coming?

                “Lift’ll take ya back up whenever, no problem.” Himitsu pressed a button inside the elevator, glancing up as the doors began to close. His mouth creased in a smirk that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “What? I’m not gonna drag ya there.”

                Kyouji blinked and he was already gone. He reached a hand towards the button beside the elevator, but managed to stop himself before he could press it. That’d be a sign of weakness, and he’d already shown everyone here too much. He lowered his arm as a second thought when it started to shake slightly and turned away from the doors, trying to gather himself again.

                He didn’t notice much as his feet carried him forward, his footsteps echoing loudly no matter how softly he walked. It was so quiet down here, one could almost pretend nothing else existed. It would be a great place to hide away. Or make someone disappear.

                Kyouji hesitated once he reached the end of the hall, tugging absentmindedly on the band around his wrist. Himitsu hadn’t been exaggerating about the door. On it was the same symbol as before: the Jupiter symbol, he now recalled.

                …now what?

                He didn’t know if he was supposed to knock or wait or just go on in, but every second he stood there made him think turning back towards the elevator was a better idea. Himitsu’d said it’d take him back up whenever, right? He could leave, and just deal with all this later. Kyouji shook his head, feeling the lingering threads of dizziness begin to finally fade. Delaying would only make this worse. He took another step forward, deciding knocking couldn’t hurt, when he heard a click and the door swung outward just enough to indicate it was open.

                Kyouji grasped the edge and pulled the door open wide enough to enter, keeping his gaze down on the tiled floor as his heart hammered in his throat. The door fell shut behind him, and the noise echoed through the large area.

                “I expected you here sooner.”

                Endless words and apologies stuck in Kyouji’s throat when the voice reached him. Despite the words, the man’s tone didn’t sound like chastisement. If anything, it was a statement of fact laced with curiosity, as if it were odd for someone to act outside of his expectations. It was merely an observation. But Kyouji hesitated to depend on that, mentally putting it on the list of reasons he could be displeased with him. He had nothing to say.

                “Come here.” Taishou’s voice left no room for argument, delivered as one who knows he would not be denied would.

                Kyouji moved forward, glancing around peripherally at the area, not lifting his gaze to the man in front of him. On one side there were a few desks pulled together, with scientific instruments, only a few of which Kyouji recognized, neatly arranged on top of them. Filing cabinets framed that side’s wall, but it was nothing compared to the rows of what he guessed were movable shelves, as no one could fit through the tiny gap between most of them, on the other side of the room. Tidy though it was, this was unmistakably a work area. Himitsu had said he was working on something, but Kyouji had still thought he’d be sitting around, ‘working’ the way he assumed most bosses did.

                The front of another desk met Kyouji’s gaze, and he stopped walking a respectful distance from it. Steeling himself, he glanced up slowly, careful not to look Taishou in the eye. He hadn’t expected him to be standing… or that tall. Perhaps he should have, considering he was related to Mr. Yama. But beyond that and the obvious ethnic traits, if he hadn’t already known, Kyouji wouldn’t have guessed a relation. Maybe if the Yama he knew lost his fat but retained his strength, he and Taishou would look more alike…

                Either way, there was something about how this man carried himself, as if nothing could shake him, that made Kyouji feel very small. He looked down at the folders on the desk instead, staring unseeingly. Kyouji could feel the calculating gaze on him, and he willed himself to remain still. Even without touch, the sensation of being picked apart by sight alone and examined in pieces couldn’t be shaken.

                “Now would be the time for introductions, but it seems they are unnecessary.” Taishou gathered the contents belonging to the open folder together, straightening them and replacing them in their proper place. “Kyouji Shakuzai.”

                Kyouji froze, before remembering that was what he’d chosen to go by as his ‘fake’ name. Perhaps Himitsu had—

                “You go by Jadoku now, do you not?” Taishou continued, studying Kyouji’s reaction and pausing only long enough for Kyouji to give a slight nod. “You were their first, perhaps only… success.” His tone clearly indicated he thought otherwise. “And yet, they couldn’t be bothered to check in on you to discover their efforts hadn’t in fact been fruitless.”

                Success? What is he talking about? Am I supposed to know?

                Despite Kyouji’s continued silence, Dr. Yamada remained undeterred. “Though I suppose that worked out for you, in the end.”

                Taishou tucked the folders away into the lower compartments of the desk, and Kyouji for the first time wondered about their contents. He should have really looked when he had the chance. Taishou then beckoned him forward, to the desk itself.

                “Show me your hands.”

                Kyouji barely contained a grimace at the command. He’d been poked and prodded quite enough recently for his tastes. While none of the handful of people put in charge of documenting the scaling on his hands and what remained on his arm had actually touched him, it had set him on edge anyway. They’d been far too intrigued for his comfort by the photos they’d taken and the sample he’d accidentally left behind when a few fell loose during the inspection.

                Afterwards, he hadn’t even been able to hide them again, his gloves confiscated, likely in search of other loose scales that could have gotten caught in the cloth. It seemed increasingly likely that while he was here, none of his secrets would be allowed to remain so. Ignoring the discomfort best he could, Kyouji moved forward, presenting his hands palm up, and keeping his gaze on the desk rather than the freakish green coating that had only just begun to dull.

                Dr. Yamada drew one hand closer to himself, observing it and making mental notes regarding the current texture and the lack of a reflexive response when pressure was introduced. Kyouji could feel the contact distantly, and even without looking, once again felt like some sort of specimen under a microscope. Even so, he wasn’t about to move. If he seemed threatening in any way, there was no doubt Taishou had some form of quick access to whatever controlled the band around his wrist. Kyouji wasn’t about to risk it. When his hand was finally released, he shoved them both back in his pockets.

                “And how long will these last without outside influence?” It was the first direct question Taishou had asked of him that couldn’t be answered with a yes or no, and yet Kyouji could only guess at the answer.

                “I’m not sure… I don’t usually get burned.” Kyouji shrugged, struggling to come up with an acceptable response. “Maybe another week, depending.”

                It had only taken a single week for his previous scrape-up to begin to shed its protective layer, allowing new skin to see the light of day (or lack thereof, down here) for the first time. The raw sensation of the first couple of days with the new skin was always a little uncomfortable, moving from barely being able to feel anything at all in that spot to being able to feel the air that brushed past as he walked. Hands were finicky, however, and almost a full week later were only just beginning to dull in color.

                The answer was apparently satisfactory, as Taishou simply nodded in response, entering something into the computer to the side before turning to Kyouji again. “I have been informed that you have taken an interest in observing Subject 36, care to explain?”

                Kyouji could not stop the look of confusion that passed over his face.

                “The child,” Taishou elaborated.

                “Is that not allowed?” Kyouji knew he was avoiding the question, but he doubted ‘I don’t trust your people not to do something to him’ would go over very well.

                Taishou smirked. Kyouji’s response had been an answer in itself. “You have not inhibited anything yet, and at this point, you won’t have time to. So, as of right now, there are no problems with it. Simply a curiosity.”

                “’At this point’?” Kyouji questioned. He wasn’t under the impression that it had really been an option any earlier, either.

                “As I’m sure you’ve been told, we will not be able to keep him as long as originally planned,” Taishou began to explain. “The issue with sedating him is growing exponentially, and fully containing him would require actions I’m frankly not willing to do for something short-term. The security of this location is more important than this side project, no matter how interesting.”

                “You don’t already have something that would work? He’s just—“ The phrase died on Kyouji’s lips. He wasn’t ‘just a kid’. How easy it was to forget.

                Dr. Yamada raised an eyebrow at that. “You think he should be kept here longer?”

                Kyouji hesitated. Was it better for the kid to stay here, where at least there was some measure of control over what happened to him, or would it be best to get him passed on, where there was a chance at him being ransomed back? It wasn’t as if Mr. Yama was very fond of keeping his word. Still, if there was money involved, it was far more likely…

                “No. You’re right.” Kyouji frowned slightly in thought.

                “Hm.” Taishou considered him for a moment. “To answer your question, no, we currently do not have a place that could safely contain that sort of firepower and still have him be of any use to us.”

                …firepower?

                “Sedating him in the first place involved risks we shouldn’t have had to undertake at all, though thankfully he was willing to cooperate after an initial outburst. He behaved quite intelligently, but we will not count on that. We also do not want him escaping while he is aware. It would risk him leading someone back here.” There was a threat underlying Taishou’s words, or at least it seemed so to Kyouji. “It is rare that we take subjects here, volatile as they can be, as you likely guessed from his low number.”

                “And what’s mine?” The question was sharp, and Kyouji wondered if he should have just kept his mouth shut.

                Taishou chuckled, looking down at him. “There’s no need.” Kyouji once again felt small. “You are to be referred to by your name, and unless you cause issues here, anything further will never be necessary.”

                …Issues? But what would count as ‘causing issues’?

                “I… don’t understand.” Kyouji suppressed a wince when the statement slipped out. He was wasting Taishou’s time, he could feel it. He needed to leave.

                “Fear, while useful, is not binding,” Taishou stated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “You chose to be here, so forcing anything while you are willing to cooperate would be a waste of resources.”

                Then what’s this cuff on my wrist supposed to be for? Aesthetic?

                But Kyouji held his tongue. Questioning could mean being uncooperative, and it was bad enough that he was becoming less and less sure of his footing here. One minute it’s better, the next it’s worse. Could nothing be straight-forward? Just lock him away in a lab and get it over with.

                Kyouji internally recoiled at that last thought. No, actually don’t do that. Kill him first; at least he wouldn’t know what was happening if he were dead. He tried to avoid the train of thought that that was essentially what he had handed the kid over for, but it was inescapable. Kyouji reminded himself that he could not shake his head to try and rid himself of the thoughts in this moment, and he would just have to try and tamp down the guilt biting at the back of his throat.

                Too late now…

                Dr. Yamada studied him for a moment, having not missed the micro expressions that had flitted across Kyouji’s face. “Report to the observation room you are so fond of frequenting. There is no reason to hold him here much longer. Further instruction will be given there.” This conversation was clearly over. “You are dismissed, Jadoku.”

                Kyouji nodded, doing his level best not to run as he left.

 


 

                It was dark, and everything was cold.

                Ice water ran through his veins and warmed so so slowly with every pulse of his heart.

                He was lying on something… something solid. Yes, things existed outside of himself.

                The chill began to abate.

                There was something. A noise. A constant beep muffled through the distance it had to travel.

                It wasn’t so dark now.

                A pinprick. Pain. Small, and slight, but ice washed through him again.

                The sound faded.

                It was dark. Everything was cold.

 


 

                “Told ya it was getting’ worse.” Himitsu tapped against the glass of the observation room. “They tell ya what ya need to do now?”

                Kyouji nodded, having been briefed the day before what he’d need to do. They’d inject nearly a full dose into the kid before transportation, and it was his job to deliver him, armed with a full dose for when this one wore off. Himitsu had alerted him that the time was near, and he’d headed over immediately. It wasn’t like Kyouji had anything to do besides sit around and try not to do anything that might make them think this was necessary to do to him, and sleeping was certainly out of the question. He’d sleep when this was all over.

                “One minor thing they might not have told ya.” Himitsu held two fingers close together to show how small it was. “He’s startin’ to give off serious heat, even unconscious. We’ve got somethin’ to wrap him in, and his lil outfit seems ta do the trick, but don’t be dumb, ‘kay?”

                Great.

                “Anything else I should know about?” Kyouji wanted to be sure they were actually telling him things instead of dealing on simply a ‘need to know’ basis. In this case, he needed to know everything.

                “Nah, don’t think so.” Himitsu folded his arms, thinking on it. “It’ll just be you an’ me, and even then, I’m just going to do the drivin’. This whole thing with Baby Yama is yer stuff, I’m just gonna make sure he gets out of here.

                “You’re driving?” Kyouji didn’t remember that being part of the explanation.

                “Oi, I’ll have you know I’m an excellent driver.” Himitsu shrugged. “And I’m bored out of my damn mind around here. It’ll give me somethin’ to do.”

                “Thought you were messing with the phone.” Kyouji had figured that’d keep him busy for at least a little while.

                “Finished that.” Himitsu leaned his head against the wall. “Not even challengin’ anymore. Ya want it?”

                “I don’t need it.”

                “Suit yerself.” Himitsu glanced over when someone signaled him. “Ah, looks like we’re startin’.”

                There was a slight commotion as they entered the room, as a few techs kept their distance from the child on the bed, a large swath of material in the hands of one of them.

                “What’s the problem?” Himitsu challenged.

                “We can’t get near him, he’s giving off too much. We… may have waited a little too long between dosages,” One of them explained hurriedly, holding something close to herself. “H-he still needs this dose, but—“ She shrugged helplessly. “Someone went to find something flame-retardant we might use, but he could wake up before then.”

                Himitsu walked to where they were standing and extended an arm experimentally. The temperature skyrocketed the closer one got to the kid.

                “Ya tried using that?” Himitsu pointed at the cloth they held.

                “That’s not how heat works.” The man holding it frowned. “Besides, we’d still need to move it to the subject, and somehow inject him without burning our hands doing so.”

                Kyouji frowned, walking up to the woman who held the dose. “Give it to me.”

                She hesitated, glancing at Himitsu, who simply shrugged, willing to watch for now. She passed it over, and Kyouji took the material from the man, not waiting for permission, before going to the bedside. It was a lot warmer over here, but Kyouji kept his breathing slow and it wasn’t too bad... kind of like standing in the sun for too long during the summer. He moved the syringe in his scaled hand, deciding the direct approach was probably better than trying to get it into the IV.

                The sensation of temperature was markedly different between his scaled hand and where they tapered off at the wrist, so Kyouji made the injection fast to prevent additional burns. The temperature dropped immediately, and Kyouji draped the material over the kid, waiting until one of the others hurriedly came and unhooked the IV before securing it around him fully. The kid was still as light as ever when Kyouji lifted him, but they’d have to watch the temperature issue.

                Himitsu grinned. “’Fire cannot kill a dragon.’”

                “I’m not a dragon.” Kyouji hissed at him as he passed. If he had been, he could have avoided being burned in the first place.

                “It’s a quote, geez—“

 


 

                Kyouji squinted at the harsh glare of early morning sunlight that came through the front windows once they were finally within city limits again. The air felt heavier, and the smells of the city bombarded his senses to the point he almost gagged on them. Home sweet home...

                He glanced back to where the kid was bundled up, laid across a seat. It didn’t look very comfortable, but it wasn’t like he was conscious… Kyouji checked his grip on the syringe in his hand, tucked away in his pocket, unsure if he’d really want to use it. Sure, it might be necessary if the kid started burning a hole through the car, but otherwise, it might be best not to. It was one thing to be unconscious in the presence of someone who knew what they were doing, and who had no reason to harm you. Mr. Yama was another problem altogether.

                Besides, Kyouji thought with a smirk, wouldn’t that just be a lovely surprise to leave on his doorstep?

                He’d decide closer to arrival, but they’d gone a fair distance with no unusual reaction from the kid. Kyouji drummed his fingers against his leg in thought, brushing a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. The longer he waited, the more he questioned just handing the kid over. In this case, not only was the child in more danger, but there wasn’t really a reason to do so? Unless this was part of the bigger job.

                But if Himitsu was right, and that was a big if, he didn’t need to be on Mr. Yama’s good side anymore… There was still the issue of whatever he owed Himitsu, but he was well aware creditors weren’t overly picky about where the money owed came from. He wasn’t even completely sure he’d get paid for this part. This had been to allow him access to things again, which he had and would sorely need if he was going to survive on his own. Did adding Dr. Yamada and all of that into the equation make it better or worse not to deliver?

                Kyouji suppressed a sigh, leaning his head against the cool glass on the door of the car. They couldn’t just dump the kid out though, and quite honestly he’d rather Mr. Yama deal with the go-between involving Hiro. That was one person he could stand to never have to encounter again. Not after this…

                Himitsu pulled the car off the main street, around the corner and a short distance from where the delivery was to take place.

                “Alrighty. He already knows yer on the way, so we’re go ta go.” Himitsu shifted the car into park, leaning back against the seat. “An’ look, I didn’t even crash on the way. I should get a medal.”

                “There wasn’t anyone else on the road.” Kyouji preferred talking about this to focusing on what they were here for.

                “There was so, you were just stuck up in yer head and didn’t notice.” Himitsu tapped the side of his temple to demonstrate.

                That… was probably true.

                Kyouji just stared ahead, having no rebuttal to that.

                Himitsu frowned at him. “It’s just a delivery, what’s got you all…” He made a vague gesture with his hands.

                Kyouji remained silent, unbuckling his seatbelt and pushing open the car door, shivering in the brisk air despite the jacket he’d been provided. He wasn’t going to get into something Himitsu didn’t actually care about. He was just running his mouth. Like always.

                “Ya plannin’ on using the stuff?” Himitsu had noticed he’d left it in his pocket and was making no move to use it as he approached the kid. “Now might be a good time…”

                Kyouji simply shook his head. Not unless I have to.

                “Whatever man, not my problem anymore.” Himitsu shrugged, taking out his phone. “I’ll just be waitin’ fer you to finish. May take a lap around the block.”

                Kyouji was only half listening as he tugged open the side door. The kid looked so vulnerable lying there, and with no immediate rush forcing his hand, Kyouji hesitated. Was it even possible to deliver him to where he belonged without being detected? Surely that was wishful thinking…

                “What’s the hold-up? Do ya need me to hold yer hand an’ walk ya through it?” Himitsu chimed in unhelpfully from the front seat, watching Kyouji pause in his actions. “First, pick up the kid…”

                Kyouji frowned over at him, gathering the bundle in his arms and slamming the door shut with his foot behind him. He mildly hoped he’d left a dent, before remembering that maybe that wouldn’t be a good thing. Glancing back to check, however, Kyouji saw that Himitsu’s grin was unchanged and the other man simply waved at him through the window.

 


 

                “Well, it took you long enough.” Mr. Yama spoke from where he was settled in an oversized recliner.

                It didn’t look like the enormous man would be able to move anytime soon, at least not without considerable effort. Perhaps that was what the three other people were there for. Kyouji discarded the idea when they looked over at him as if he’d interrupted something, but he wasn’t going to act like he should feel responsible that Yama had double booked. This was just a delivery. No more, no less.

                Kyouji didn’t bother to suppress an unimpressed look as he entered the meeting place, glancing around before laying Tadashi on a ratty couch shoved against a wall. He knew better than to respond to Mr. Yama’s previous statement. It was just better to keep your mouth shut most of the time, here.

                The three strangers returned to whatever conversation they’d been having amongst themselves, and it took Kyouji a moment to mentally switch languages. It’d been a while since he’d heard people conversing in pure Japanese rather than English or some mix of the two languages.              

                (“—lucky this time, Arata, but it better not be a bust. Too many of them are already in the wind.”) The smaller man scolded the other.

                Kyouji did his best not to react, he clearly wasn’t meant to be a part of this conversation. He leaned against the arm of the couch, wondering what, or maybe who, they’d lost.

                There was a confident air around the taller man, Arata, bordering on arrogance. (“Nah, we’ve already found our kitty, it’s only a matter of time. Have a little faith, Oliver.”)

                Kitty?

                The woman rolled her eyes and stepped forward to Yama, looking between him and over at the couch where the Tadashi and Jadoku were.

                (“That him?”)

                When she received a nod, she took another step forward assertively. (“You’d better be right, or you know who you’ll answer to.”)

                Kyouji shifted uneasily, pulling on the band still around his wrist and glancing back at the kid behind him as if to check he was still there. He reminded himself to stick to English. “Who are they?”

                “None of your concern, now is it?” Mr. Yama brushed him off, turning back to the woman. (“So what about it?”)

                Oh, sure it isn’t.

                The smaller man, Oliver, suddenly fixed his eyes on Kyouji, looking closely before abruptly turning to Arata. (“No. Bad idea. Cut the losses now-“)

                (“Calm down.”) Arata grinned easily. (“Don’t worry, I can handle it. I’ve dealt with the Thing, haven’t I?”)

                Kyouji’s teeth were set on edge. Possibilities were starting to click in his mind but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He could still be entirely wrong.

                (“Yuna,”) Oliver implored, looking to the woman who spoke to Yama.

                Yuna looked skeptically over at Oliver before shaking her head at Yama, having reached her decision. (“Just what we’ve agreed on.”)

                Mr. Yama looked disappointed, but shrugged, addressing Kyouji again. “I trust you’ve handled any… issues?”

                Resisting the urge to check the syringe in his pocket at those words, Kyouji narrowed his gaze. That was a pointed question if there was one, and it would be helpful if he knew exactly what Mr. Yama had been told about what was going on. The presence of the others was bad enough, but with the chance that Tadashi would end up back with his brother decreasing by the second, he needed to figure out the game.

                Swallowing down the spark of anxiety, Kyouji met the large man’s gaze.

                “Won’t be any problems.”

                Kyouji’s words were met with a smirk.

                “You should hope not.”

                He doesn’t have power over you. He doesn’t—

                 …who am I kidding?

                Kyouji clenched his fists where he’d shoved them into the jacket pockets, but otherwise remained motionless, watching for some sign of what would happen next. Best case scenario he assumed Mr. Yama had some way of contacting Hiro for the ransom money, and it would be better if Kyouji were gone before his arrival. But Kyouji wasn’t entirely stupid. That wasn’t what was happening. Maybe he should just—

                When Arata moved towards him, he steadied his grip on the syringe in his pocket and stood, subconsciously putting himself between them and the kid.

                Arata smirked at Kyouji’s display, looking down at him. “Now then, there’s no way you haven’t noticed. The kid’s ‘special,’ after all. He can’t be left in the hands of simple thugs to trade around.”

                Kyouji grit his teeth, knowing he should probably leave while he had the chance.

                “Simple?” Mr. Yama frowned over at Arata, taking offense to the phrasing. (“Money is money. There he is, take him and be on your way.”)

                Kyouji remained in front of Tadashi. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. If, or rather ‘when’ as it was looking now, they did take him, what was it for? To sell him again as some oddity… or worse? The kid would probably never get home, and have who knows what done to him.

                Their previous words echoed in his mind. Who exactly had they lost? And were they trying to find them… or replacements? He didn’t know enough. There wasn’t enough time. He didn’t know who they were or what they wanted or what they could do and they were right in front of him and he needed to figure out what to do. Or run.

                But could he accept that?

                The woman eyed him, weighing something in her mind. Arata glanced back and caught her look, smirking as he spoke to her.

                (“It’s not as dangerous as you think. I could get you both if it came to it. Show you what I can really do.”)

                She laughed shortly, and he scowled, pride wounded. Arata’s gaze snapped back to Kyouji, who still hadn’t moved, frozen in indecision. He took a menacing step forward. No one was going to stand in his way.

                Mr. Yama tried to wave the man down, dismissing the idea that Kyouji would do anything as he turned to speak to him. “I told you to get the kid. You did. You’re off the hook. Now leave, Jadoku.”

                But Arata’s words had rooted Kyouji in place.

                Both?

                 If these people were here because the kid was ‘special’ as they put it, what did that mean… for him?

                …He wouldn’t. Except he completely would.

                Mr. Yama sat there with a smug look on his face, quite pleased with himself and how things had turned out.

                Jadoku wanted to see it destroyed.

                A false smile danced across Arata’s face. “Now then, be reasonable.” But his stance proved he was hoping Jadoku would do anything but that.

                Jadoku felt a flash of anger and clenched his jaw, Japanese words dripping out like venom.

                (“Like hell.”)

Chapter Text

                Arata’s eyes widened at Jadoku’s words, shock and anger playing across his expression. It became abundantly clear that this ‘Jadoku’ had understood everything they’d said since he’d entered the room. It was no longer a matter of just collecting the kid; this creature was potentially dangerous now and needed to be dealt with.

                Yuma would forgive him.

                She might even be impressed, in that quiet, thoughtful manner she had.

                Making up his mind, he moved forward with something hidden in his hand, pleased to get a chance to prove himself. After all, bringing in two would be far more useful than just the one.

                Beneath the pulse that echoed as adrenalin surged through his body, a distant part of Jadoku’s brain called for something, anything that could give him a chance to gather his thoughts. What he’d done had been incredibly stupid. He should’ve just kept his mouth shut and left while he could.

                It’s not like anything he could do would help…

                But despite the internal hesitation, a spark of frustration at the events of the past few days grew inside of him. Feeding off of the exhaustion born of sleepless nights, Jadoku’s irritation at this impossible situation turned to ice cold anger. His throat clamped shut as a possible realization flitted across his mind, a little voice that wondered if they had known about this when they’d sent him here alone.

                The idea quickly took root. They’d already gotten what they wanted, hadn’t they? If he was in this on his own, he couldn’t just stand there. Considering how little he knew about these people, there might not be a chance for escape later…

                Pulled from his thoughts by a quiet click, Jadoku flinched, jerking to the side before he’d consciously realized he needed to. Twin wires lay uselessly on the ground, trailing back to the Taser in Arata’s hand. Heart hammering in his throat, Jadoku glared up at the man in front of him.

                Arata stared for a moment, his face twisting in fury. Dropping the device, he advanced on Jadoku, swiftly covering the short distance in angry strides. He would not be made a fool of, especially not in front of Yuma.

                Tightening his grip on the syringe in his pocket, Jadoku clenched his jaw and stepped back, the heel of his foot meeting the edge of the couch just as Arata reached him. Bracing against the couch, Jadoku shoved forward, leading with his free arm and hoping to get him off balance, despite his much smaller frame. 

                Besides a surprised grunt, it had no effect, and Arata now had Jadoku’s left arm in a vice grip, twisting it as he forced him down and back. Jadoku shook with exertion, trying to resist the movement. This guy was a lot stronger than he looked…

                “Well, that wasn’t so hard, now was it?” Arata grinned, victory assumed as he took a closer look at the scaled hand of the arm in his grasp. “Aren’t you an interesting little frea-“

                Arata cut off with a cry of pain as Jadoku’s right hand, syringe and all, collided with the side of his head. The glass shattered under the force of the blow, driving shards into his face. The contents of the syringe coated Jadoku’s hand, which pressed hard against the shards, forcing them deeper and causing Arata to release him to try and get away. Blood and whatever had been in the syringe flowed freely down the side of Arata’s face, but it didn’t explain why it hurt so badly.

                It felt like the side of his face was on fire. And it was spreading. Quickly.

                Jadoku righted himself as Arata screamed while scrabbling at his face, trying to make it stop.

                It was far too late for that.

                Oliver stared on in horror, mutely reaching to try and stop Yuma as she raced towards Jadoku, intent on getting him away from Arata. Jadoku moved away from the couch and towards his next assailant, not keen on getting trapped again.

                Yuma caught Jadoku’s blood-soaked wrist as he lashed out, keeping him from making contact as she drew her gun from its holster. “What did you do?

                Jadoku snarled, knowing he just needed to break skin or she was going to shoot him and then-

                An itch spread from the tips of his fingers up towards his wrist, following the scales and giving the sensation of hairs standing up on the back of his neck. The sensation was familiar, and Jadoku twisted his wrist, pulling back harshly.

                The lifted scales tore through Yuma’s hand, some catching and yanking free of his skin, sending bolts of pain up his arm even as she quickly let go, swearing and losing her grip on her gun. She clutched her ruined hand with the other, beginning to feel the effects as they swept through her system.

                Jadoku stumbled to catch his balance and hastily scooped up the gun. Eyes darting up to make sure no one else was headed for him, he moved away from the two soon-to-be-corpses to the other corner of the room, keeping a distance from the remaining people.

                He wasn’t going to look at the others. Jadoku didn’t need another mental image he could never erase. He already knew what was happening, and seeing would only make this worse. He couldn’t look.

                But his eyes betrayed him and strayed to Arata’s now still form and Yuma where she’d collapsed on the ground, clutching her hand to her chest as pain racked through her body. Red, protruding veins pushed against the skin of her arm as they crept towards her heart.

                Feeling a dry scratch at the back of his throat as he tried not to be sick, Jadoku suppressed a gag and fumbled with the pistol, now slick with the blood from his hands, trying to find and turn off the safety. This would be so much easier if his scales would flatten out again, and he tried his best to ignore the upward pressure on his right hand from the scraps of… nope we are not thinking about that right now.

                Oliver stood frozen across the room, but Yama was nowhere in sight, the click of a door falling shut the only hint to his location. Jadoku guessed he could move faster than he’d given him credit for. He certainly didn’t count on Oliver staying still for long. If not for the fear, Jadoku would already have missed his chance.

                Could he let him leave after what had happened? Oliver didn’t look like he was going to try what his colleagues had anytime soon, but he was sure to tell… whoever had sent them and that wouldn’t mean anything good. He’d have to keep him from being able to report back. Jadoku’s gaze flickered to the other two and back to Oliver.

                A bullet would be better, anyway. More merciful. Cleaner?

                “Wait!” Oliver looked like he was summoning the last dredges of his courage to speak, eyes darting between the gun, the people on the ground, and Jadoku’s... shoulder? He wasn’t looking him in the eye.

                Jadoku tried to brush off the thought, training the gun on him best he knew how, hoping Oliver couldn’t tell he had no idea how to aim. It couldn’t be too hard, just point and pull the trigger, right? His trembling hands didn’t help anything, but maybe if he got closer…

                “W-wait, please-“ Oliver backed up when Jadoku stepped closer, having no way of knowing Jadoku’s nerve was failing just as fast as his was. “Y-you’re one of his, right?”

                Jadoku froze, trying to figure out what, or rather who, he meant. Oliver took it as a sign that he was speaking the right language finally, and that maybe he could make it out of there intact… or at least alive.

                “I-I mean of course you are, you’ve got his mark, I tried to tell them not to, but-“ Oliver began to panic again when Jadoku didn’t relax or lower the gun. “You c-can’t kill me! I have information for him, you’ve got to-“

                That’s convenient.

                Jadoku’s scowl deepened, and another step forward put Oliver’s back against the wall. He couldn’t miss from this distance. The sound of a jet passing overhead distracted him momentarily as Jadoku again wondered what was going on here. What if this was the intended outcome: information for a now useless ‘side project’. Had they just expected him to play along? They hadn’t thought he would go in armed, either… the syringe had been meant to be used before he even arrived. The idea was making him sick.

                Oliver quickly realized he was running out of time. “I- There are more!”

                What?

                “One broke out, we’re not sure wh-where he is, but-“

                The door flew open, ricocheting off of the wall and startling Jadoku badly, his head whipping around towards the source of the noise as the heavy tang of blood filled his mouth. He was mildly surprised that the gun didn’t go off, the heavy trigger not responding to the flinch as his hands seized.

                What. Was. That.

                Jadoku quickly corrected the thought, the armored figure quite clearly a person, who was just… standing there. Purple and black armor fully covered the figure, and black gauntlets that had been hanging slack at his sides curled into fists as a reflective helmet turned slowly, surveying the room. It looked like something ripped straight out of a comic book, but was distantly familiar in a way that Jadoku’s scattered mind couldn’t place.

                The gaze finally settled where Jadoku stood, and after a beat of silence, the armored man launched himself across the room with a yell that bordered on a roar. Jadoku’s back hit the ground before he could process what was happening, head slamming against the flooring hard enough to white out his vision momentarily.

                Survival instinct told him to curl up until the threat went away, but when a gauntleted fist made contact with the side of his face, the bruising force enough to push his head back into the concrete, he knew he had to do something or he was probably going to die.

                Jadoku could still feel the weight of the gun in his clenched hand, and the second hit didn’t hurt as much, the scales doing their job quickly. This allowance gave Jadoku just enough leeway to get the gun up to the reflective visor and pull the trigger as hard as he could, not trusting it to go off from anything less.

                Cracks spider webbed across the helmet’s screen, and Jadoku lost his grip on the gun, not expecting a pistol to have a kick at all. The figure reared back at the shot, but not in such a manner that suggested the bullet had made it through. That was fine. Jadoku had hoped that effectively blinding him would give him time to get free, but trying to sit up only made his vision swim harshly. This wasn’t going to work, and there was only so long before-

                The armored figure lifted his hands to the base of the helmet, unfastening a small latch, removing it, and letting it fall to the side.

                Oh.

                Shit.

                Hiro.

                His face was twisted in a way Jadoku had only imagined before, but it was worse in person. Hatred and disgust emanated from him, residual shock quickly giving way to anger. Was that smoke, or was he seeing things? Jadoku couldn’t tell anymore.

                He didn’t care anymore. Jadoku told himself that’s what the emptiness meant. He was too tired to listen to what Hiro was saying, only the anger registering, words blurring together in his brain. That… probably wasn’t good. But right then only thoughts such as ‘where did he get the armor’ and ‘how much longer until the kid wakes up’ had any coherence in his mind.

                Jadoku didn’t do much more than blink slowly when Hiro’s fist hit the ground beside his head. Why had he missed? He hadn’t moved, and Hiro had been fine hitting him before…

                 And then suddenly he was gone and the room was so much louder.

                Would it kill everyone to be quiet, just for a moment?

                Wait… everyone?

                Jadoku managed to finally pull himself to a sitting position, blinking until the blurriness went away. There were… not too many people to count, but they refused to stay in one place… Jadoku winced when he saw one of them hit the wall, slumping down and not getting up. He didn’t know these people, and couldn’t reliably say whether they would attack him or not. Probably not if he just sat there, but-

                Where was Oliver? He’d been talking to him and… did he call for back-up? Jadoku couldn’t string the thoughts together properly, only grasping at them before they slipped away. He should… he should leave.

                Jadoku didn’t recall making it to his feet, but he was standing. There was a door fairly close by, and he didn’t have to go through the chaos on the other side of the room to get to it, so maybe…

                But Jadoku’s movement caught the attention of one of the fighters, and it quickly became clear that they were against him, too. The man moved towards him, weapon in hand, and Jadoku belatedly realized the gun he’d used was still on the ground, which may as well have been on the other side of the room with how unlikely he would be able to get to it at this point.

                If the man got close enough, maybe he could try to use his scales again… there should be enough left to paralyze… Jadoku wavered, and suddenly the room was pure red.

                No… wait, there were edges…

                Of silver?

                “Whoops!” A female voice filled his ears, and there were a lot of colors suddenly, standing out among the greys and blacks that the other people in the room were decked with. “Saved your life~”

                “He would have survived that, Bella.”

                “Shhh, he doesn’t need to know.” Bella grinned, snapping the bladed parasol shut and resting it on her shoulder, looking around the room as she nudged aside the man she’d run through with the blade that now rested harmlessly on her shoulder, encased in the thick red material. “Wow, you made a mess.”            

                Shoki had to agree, but they’d certainly seen worse. The ball and chain hung loosely at her side as she kept an eye out for other immediate threats, but the other occupants of the room were too focused with each other to notice their arrival. Jadoku’s gaze was fixed on the man that Bella had run through, who was now slowly attempting to crawl away from them, hoping to avoid notice, he was sure. Luck wasn’t on his side, however.

                “You’re still kicking?” Bella frowned, skating to stand over him, nodding in what was almost a sympathetic manner as the man begged for his life. “Yeah, well see, I’d love to. But we’ve got orders. You attack him, we gotta put you in your place. Simple as that.” She dropped the weighted blade, and he stilled as it sunk home in his chest. She laughed, looking over at Shoki conspiratorially. “Guess that place was the ground,” Bella whispered.

                “Bella…” Shoki shook her head, exasperation and fondness coloring her words.

                Jadoku stood there in confusion, swallowing past the bitter copper taste before attempting to speak. “...what’s…”

                Bella turned to him, taking in his dazed look and tapping the parasol on the ground to shake loose any drops that still clung to it. “Wow, you got hit hard.” She giggled, holding up a hand in front of his face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

                “…one.” Jadoku could tell that much.

                “He’s fine.” Bella nodded solemnly.

                “Why are you…” Jadoku searched for the word, knowing distantly it shouldn’t be this hard. “…here?”

                “We were in the area,” Shoki deadpanned, and Jadoku thought he detected a hint of annoyance, but he couldn’t be sure.

                Bella scoffed, grinning widely at Jadoku. “Oh please, did you think when he heard screaming he was just going to let his-“

                Bella cut off at the sound of a dull thunk and scream behind her. The spiked ball of Shoki’s weapon had collided with a now shocked person, who’d thought attacking Bella while her back was turned was a good idea. That arm definitely looked broken, shattered even.

                “Rude!” Frowning deeply, Bella moved into the fray, eager to fight.

                “Jadoku,” Shoki caught his attention, looking at his unsteady state warily. “The trade-in spot by the bay, you know it?”

                Jadoku nodded, regretting the movement. He knew of it, and it wasn’t too far from here, what was she-?

                “Himitsu’s waiting there. Can you make it?” Shoki looked at him doubtfully, her gaze flickering to where Bella was fighting. She could hold her own, but sometimes she acted too rashly. Shoki needed Jadoku out of the way, but if it meant leaving her partner behind…

                “Yeah…” Jadoku knew that now he was on his feet, he could probably walk at least, so long as anyone wasn’t actively trying to stop him. But what was going on? He thought…

                “Right. Don’t wait up for us.”

                Shoki moved to assist Bella, and Jadoku stared for a moment before remembering that he needed to leave. He managed to make it to the side door, slipping out without anyone following. The area was different than where he’d come in, a few bodies that Jadoku assumed the women inside had taken care of lying on the almost unfamiliar pavement.

                It took a second to think over the pounding in his skull as he absentmindedly wiped his hands off on his pants, only regretting it after the deed was done. He eventually oriented himself, pulling his hood over his head to shield his eyes from the stabbing sunlight, and starting in the right direction.

 


 

                Hood up and head bowed, Jadoku tried to suppress the panic that bubbled inside him as he took deliberately measured steps towards the bay. If they were a little faster or unsteady than was probably normal, he wasn’t going to waste energy to even them out, especially since he wasn’t sure when his legs might stop working or the dizziness would overcome him. Anyway, people would notice the bloodstains a lot faster than they would be curious about where he was off to in such a hurry.

                Jadoku needed to get out of sight. He needed to hide, and there was only one place that could possibly be considered safe anymore. The adrenalin that he’d been feeding off of for… who knew how long, was fading fast, and he knew he was going to crash soon. Jadoku just needed to make it there, though if he sat down and refused to move, Himitsu could probably still find him. Who knew what else the band around his wrist could do?

                His thoughts were fragmented as his brain tried to process the events of the morning. There was just… so much, too much, and it was easier to focus on the injuries. They were here and now. Pain echoed across his shoulders and down his back, the bruises complaining despite the protective scales that ensured they wouldn’t be hurt further. It was like putting a helmet over a concussion, which Jadoku wasn’t sure whether he had or not. His head pulsed with every heartbeat, and each time a foot met the pavement, a shot of pain lanced towards the back of his head.

                Jadoku’s hand went up to rub at his eye, forgetting why the itch was there. He recoiled at the sound of the hardened, smoothed over scales that encircled it scraping against those on his hand. Even the eyelid had a thin, but clearly there, coating. Well, that answered one of his lifelong questions. Maybe he should get decked in the face more often.

                A half broken laugh escaped his lips, and he considered the concussion possibility more thoroughly… well… as thoroughly as he could. There was nothing funny about this, but maybe if he laughed it would be okay. As okay as anything was anymore, that is.

                The strengthening of the ocean air was what first alerted him that he was nearing his destination, and he turned onto what he hoped was the correct off-street. Just a little bit further… if he would even be there.

                “Jadoku?”

                That was Himitsu’s voice, no doubt. He managed a few more steps before an arm steadied him. Jadoku hadn’t noticed just how badly he was off balance until something held him in place.

                “Easy does it.” Himitsu’s arm wrapped more securely around him, taking most of his weight as Jadoku leaned on him.

                Flinching when a hand gently lifted his chin, Jadoku shut his eyes, hearing a decisive ‘snick’ when the left one shut. Taishou and Himitsu both knew about the scales, so… so it wasn’t like they’d get rid of him? Maybe they’d shut him in a room until he was presentable, but it wasn’t like that hadn’t happened before. He could deal with it. He needed to get caught up on sleep anyway.

                But just because he could deal with it didn’t mean he wanted to see their expressions, knowing any reaction they had would be seared into his mind. There was too much pressing against the inside of his head, vying for attention, (so much that he could physically feel it), and he didn’t want that on top of everything. It was better to not know.  

                “Hey. You’ve gotta open your eyes for me. Just fer a sec.”

                Not having the energy to explain himself, Jadoku frowned, but reluctantly obeyed, wincing when the light hit his pupils. Himitsu looked searchingly before sighing and releasing his hold on his chin. Jadoku shut his eyes again, starlight dancing in his vision, and he almost thought he could see Himitsu’s outline through his eyelids.

                “Well, you are definitely concussed.” Himitsu had suspected it, especially after listening in on Bella’s commentary, but one could always hope…

                Jadoku hummed unhappily, only remembering that that meant he couldn’t sleep. Wonderful. Of course he couldn’t be allowed even that.

                “Nice as this is, we should get back so someone can take a look at that head o’ yours.” Himitsu moved towards the car, slowly so Jadoku could keep up on unsteady legs. The wait had been nerve-wracking, and the sooner he could get him back to base, the better.

                Scoffing lightly, Jadoku frowned, pouring all of his remaining focus into not tripping over his own feet. “Like they c’n do anything…”

                “Ya might be surprised.” Himitsu put an arm over the edge of the door frame while Jadoku got into the car. People with impaired mobility tended to severely misjudge how much space they had to move in and while it was funny when a drunk did it, letting a concussed person strike their head on the metal frame probably wasn’t a good idea. “In the least, it might feel better to get some of that blood off’a ya.”

                Jadoku blinked away the dizziness that moving from standing to sitting caused, looking at the blood on his hands and pants (and shirt and probably elsewhere too) in a lost manner.

                Whoops. Probably shouldn’t get that on things…

                Like the car.

                Or Himitsu.

                “…oh.” Jadoku tried not to touch anything else, looking somewhat guiltily up at Himitsu, seeing that it was too late for the latter. The last thing he needed was him mad at him too. A flash of a memory of anger and disgust and hate jumped to the front of his mind, and Jadoku tensed, preparing for… something. But that had been so long ago- no… it was recent? Jadoku couldn’t place it, and trying to remember only made the pressure at his temples worse.

                Himitsu followed Jadoku’s gaze to his own shirt and shrugged, guessing at the reason behind the worry that had taken root in Jadoku’s eyes. “Eh… don’t worry ‘bout it, it’ll come out, and they’ve gotten worse outta seats like these.” He patted the headrest twice before shutting the door and making his way over to the driver’s side.

                When the tension dissipated, there was room given to exhaustion to pulse through Jadoku’s head, and suddenly keeping his eyes open was one of the most difficult things in the world. The sound of the car starting jolted him to awareness, and he compromised by saying he’d stay awake, but just shut his eyes. He could do that, right?


 

                “And you’re sure none of it could have transferred to you?” The doctor needed to be certain, staying a ‘safe’ distance from Jadoku as he spoke to Himitsu. The toxicity of Jadoku’s blood was no joke, and even though Jadoku was clean and covered properly now, the knowledge of the danger was still present.

                “If it had we’d have known by now.” Himitsu didn’t bother to hide his annoyance, talking down to the man in front of him. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned about the person who’s actually injured?”

                The man hid his reaction to the admonishment well enough, but Himitsu could see that the point had gotten across. “All that’s left is to let him rest and avoid a second head injury-“

                “Third.”

                The doctor looked at him in confusion. “Excuse me?”

                “Third injury.”  Himitsu’s gaze was fixed on where Jadoku lay, turned so that he wasn’t resting on any of the scaled areas. “Cracked his head little under a week ago, too.”

                “Ah. Well, did he display similar symptoms?” The doctor made note of it on his pad of paper.

                Himitsu shook his head. “Not that I could tell. He was much more… present.”

                “Well, we’ll keep him under observation, but he should still recover. Will that suffice?”

                “…Yeah.”

                When nothing else came, the doctor took that as permission to leave for now. Himitsu stood in silence for a moment when an alert notified him that the Fujitas had returned and his presence was requested. He closed the door behind him quietly, making his way to the meeting area.

                By the time he arrived, the Fujitas were already waiting in front of Taishou, mostly unharmed, although Himitsu could make out a scorch mark along one of Bella’s sleeves. He silently approached the three, sitting down at Taishou’s right side, and waited for them to say what they needed to.

                “Geez, Himitsu, who died?” Bella joked, kicking her foot against the floor so that the wheels on her skates spun freely.

                Himitsu tilted his head, pushing forward a smile. “Ain’t that what you’re here to tell us?”

                She laughed, relaxing in such a way that only those who knew her could tell apart from her regular flippant attitude. “No one important, sadly.”

                Bella glanced at the door Himitsu had come in, frowning slightly. “Where’s J, anyway? Figured he’d want to hear this.”

                “Sleeping off his concussion.”

                “Ah.” Bella nodded solemnly, as if he’d answered more than the stated question. “Well, could have been worse.”

                Himitsu shrugged, and a look from Shoki silenced the comment that was on the tip of Bella’s tongue. She had to keep her audience in mind, and so she turned to address Taishou properly now that they were all present.

                “Turns out you were right about wanting the kid out of here, but at least that area was run down enough that a fire wasn’t too suspicious. We got out of there with time to spare, but some of your brother’s weren’t so lucky. He’ll probably complain about that for a while.” Bella smirked.

                “He can’t say he wasn’t warned,” Himitsu muttered.

                Taishou looked over at him, a warning in his gaze. “Jadoku did not take the precautions as he had been instructed. If he had, this would be a non-issue, but as it stands, he will need to answer for that.”

                “If he had we’d have a bigger problem, if ya cared about that at all.” Himitsu made direct eye contact with Taishou, not bothering to mask his anger. “You heard as well as I did he tried to sell ‘im, or do you consider that a ‘non-issue’?”

                The Fujitas exchanged glances. It was well known that Himitsu could, and did, speak his mind, but this was pushing it.

                “You know better than that. Now is not the time, and we will discuss it later.”

                “Damn right we will,” Himitsu muttered.

                “You are dismissed.” Taishou’s words held a finality that refused to be argued with.

                Himitsu stood, making his way to the door without so much as a backwards glance. Staying while in this mood wouldn’t be useful, anyway. He could watch through surveillance or even just talk to Bella later.

                “…so, did you know the brother could breathe fire?”

                He was definitely talking to Bella later.

Chapter Text

                It was dark, but it was warm.

                The ice water had long since receded, flushed out of his veins with each heartbeat.

                Coarse material pressed against his arms and brushed against his chin.

                He couldn’t move.

                Sounds, and voices that shouldn’t be, passed through his mind, dancing beyond understanding.

                Why was there screaming?

                He couldn’t move— He couldn’t help— He couldn’t make it stop…

                It was warm, but it was still so dark.

 


 

 

                The wind whipped past audibly as Hiro pushed the limits of just how fast his suit could go. He ignored the whine of strain as he flew above buildings, taking a straight shot to the coordinates Baymax had provided. If he was just seconds too slow, Tadashi could die again, and this time…

                This time it would be on him.

                He shouldn’t have slept.

                How long had Tadashi been somewhere he could have been found while Hiro wasted time sleeping when he could have, should have been out looking for him? It was unacceptable.

                Now Baymax was too far away to help, and to wait for him, or for any of the others, would take time Hiro wasn’t even sure he had left. Besides, the robot would only get in the way. He was still programmed to aid people first and foremost, and when Hiro got his hands on whoever took his brother—

                Hiro gritted his teeth, nearly overshooting the target location while lost in his thoughts. The sudden and harsh landing sent pain shooting up his legs, fueling the anger boiling in his blood and chest.

                He was going to make them bleed.

                This was where Baymax had tracked Tadashi to. Residing in the trash heap of the city, this… Hiro hesitated to call this a house, would be better off razed to the ground. Surely no one could live in the decrepit looking place. Clenching his fists, Hiro tried to keep a level head and thus the element of surprise, but when he tried the door, it stuck, warped in its frame.

                That. Was… It.

                Pouring out his anger, Hiro lashed out, striking the door with his gauntleted fist, and heard it ram against the wall when it broke free. There was no point in being quiet, not now. Not when—

                Oh my god…

                The room smelled like death.

                An acrid stench like wet metal permeated the room, underlaid with other… unpleasant odors. Hiro stood in shock, the scene before him driving spikes of fear into his gut.

                His eyes were immediately drawn to the two figures on the ground, where there was so much red that he couldn’t tell skin from blood.     

                Who— what could do that? Why?

                But they weren’t all that was in the room. Next to them was a couch, a low, ratty thing that was long overdue for a trip to the dump. On the couch was a small figure, lying dead still. There had been no reaction to the bang of the door.

                Even Tadashi didn’t sleep that deeply.

                No.

                No.

                No, no, no, no.

                Hiro nearly stepped forward when movement caught the corner of his eye. Continuing to turn his head in a half-daze, when his eyes landed on the source, Hiro felt his blood run cold.

                He knew him.

                He knew the man that stood there, covered in blood, with a gun aimed at another cowering person who looked ready to bolt.

                Kyouji?

                Hiro’s mind rapidly started to click things into place, but he was already moving, fueled by rage that overwhelmed all rational thought. A wordless yell ripped from his throat, yet it still couldn’t encompass the absolute anger that consumed him, the bitter bite of a betrayal that he’d been stupid enough to fall for a second time. It was Callaghan all over again, but this time, no one would try and stop him. No one.

                He was going to tear. Him. Apart.

                Caught off guard, Kyouji went down surprisingly easily, and Hiro wasn’t about to give him time to recover.

                Liar.

                Hiro knew the damage his heavy gauntlets could do, and didn’t hesitate to put them to good use, throwing every ounce of his anger into a right hook.

                Traitor.

                 His visor darkened with something like smoke, but he could still feel that his second hit made contact, and so he pulled back to strike as hard as he could.

                Thief.

                Hiro was going to crush his skull.

                Murderer.

                He never saw the gun.

                The sound of the shot rung in his ears, and after a panicked second of waiting for the pain to set in, Hiro spotted the cracks across his visor through the smoke.

                Kyouji had shot him in the head.

                If Hiro had cut any corners when designing his helmet… he would have died. As it was, he’d just lost his screen link to Baymax, and if the helmet was left on, he’d be fighting blind.

                Fine.

                Hiro reached up to remove the helmet, a small part of his mind announcing that with it gone, he could use his fire. And who better to use it on than this bastard? He deserved it. He deserved worse.

                Blinking away the film that was left on his eyes from the smoke, Hiro glared down at Kyouji, confusion coloring the anger and disgust that welled in him.

                What the hell?

                The dark coloration that spread from where he’d struck him was not bruising, at least not that Hiro could tell. It was raised, and thickening with each split second Hiro stared, and it looked like… scales. Dark green scales pushing their way out of his skin, row after row, formed a solid coating across his cheek and up over his eye, spreading toward his hairline.

                It was one of the freakiest, most bizarre things Hiro hadn’t expected to see, and he’d been through quite a bit during the last few weeks.

                “What the hell?” Hiro could only echo his own thoughts as his brow scrunched up, his mind racing. This… what if— no. His thoughts returned to the people lying dead behind him. He was nothing like them… nothing like what Tadashi had been.

                Hiro’s jaw clenched. Kyouji made no move to attack him, and Hiro knew he had the upper hand. He had time. Why not draw this out? Just ending it here would be almost too kind. First he needed to know…

                “What did you do to my brother?” Hiro snarled.

                He would hear it from his mouth. Each transgression would be paid in full before Hiro took his final revenge. It was only fair, after all, and he would be sure to remember every detail. It wouldn’t take much to get the full story, Hiro reasoned. Villains sure liked to talk.

                But Kyouji, (Hiro had a moment’s thought that that might not even be his name), didn’t respond at all. The blank stare unsettled him, perhaps more than the carnage he’d walked into the room to see. That could have a cause, as sick as it might be. This? It was as if there were no one in there, like a puppet with its strings cut. Kyouji just… lay there, staring, silent.

                “Hey!” Hiro needed to know, now. How else would he ever find out what had happened? “You owe me! You hear? After everything—you just… I deserve an explanation!”

                Hiro struck the ground next to Jadoku’s head, desperate to get a reaction, anything. “Answer me!”

                Kyouji didn’t so much as flinch.

                At a loss, Hiro stood, kicking his helmet hard enough to bounce off the opposite wall. If he couldn’t get Kyouji to tell him… He glanced over him, trying to think through the rage that still pulled at his mind. Hadn’t there been another person here? He was long gone now, but maybe…

                If he hadn’t turned to locate his helmet, he would have missed it. Someone was headed towards where Tadashi lay, and Hiro could see others through the open door.

                They dared

                Hiro launched himself across the room, using his jets inside, uncaring of possible damage to the structure of the building. No one was ever going to touch him again.

                The man’s shout ushered in the others, but was quickly cut off when Hiro collided with him, bowling him over. Hiro scrambled to his feet, stomping on the man’s arm when he reached for a weapon, satisfied to hear a crack under his boot, accompanied by a scream of pain. That was all the time he had before the others were upon him.

                They tried to rush him, used to fighting on their own, clearly. The ones that didn’t get in each other’s way could only aim for his head, Hiro’s armor making all other attacks useless.

                If they were smart, they’d shoot me.

                Hiro lost track of time, the propulsion in his suit used as a weapon just as often as the heavy gauntlets. But he was running out of steam. There were fewer in the group than when he’d started, but it had become a game of dodging, and Hiro didn’t get the chance to finish any of them off. He considered grabbing Tadashi’s body from the couch and running.

                Color danced into the fight, downing one of his attackers. Hiro grimaced at the sight. That guy was not getting up from that one.

                A small lull in the fighting quieted things for a moment. The others stared at the woman in shock as she tapped her… umbrella against the ground. Hiro didn’t understand… did they know her? One man stepped forward, waving her off dismissively.

                “Mr. Yama wants his property! Any who stand in our way—urk…” There was a flash of red and he crumpled, grasping at the gaping wound across his chest. The woman in front of him smiled, even as Hiro’s mind reeled.

                Mr. Yama was involved in all of this? Wasn’t he in jail or something?

                “New rules~” The woman’s sing-song voice held an edge of steel as sharp as the blade she wielded. “One of your people challenged me. So~, you beat me, you get the kid. But…” She lodged her blade in the leg of one of her opponents, avoiding an immediately lethal blow to prolong his suffering and leaning on it with a grin, slowly pushing it through his flesh. “I think we all know that’s not gonna happen.”

                She turned, arrogantly showing her back to a number of the others to look Hiro in the eyes with a predatory gaze and a smirk that stretched widely across her face. “That includes you, mister Hiro.”

                Her laughter sent unpleasant chills down Hiro’s spine, his instincts telling him not to engage. But he couldn’t just run. These people were talking and acting like Tadashi’s body meant something to them. That meant he definitely couldn’t let them have it. Not for a second.

                Where was Baymax?

                Hiro couldn’t remember if he’d told him not to come, but since when had the robot listened to him? He couldn’t have been that far away; it felt like Hiro had been fighting for an eternity. Hiro quickly realized that he wouldn’t be able to be very helpful in this space anyway, but watching the way the colorful woman mowed down the other fighters like this was some sort of game… he needed backup.

                And then another woman joined the fray.


 

                It was warmer.

                He could twitch his fingers… he thinks.

                The darkness hadn’t changed, but the sounds were more distinct.

                The impossible voice went on for a while, raised in a way he didn’t expect.           

                People were fighting. (People were dying).

                A name broke through the chaos.

                Hiro? He was really there?

                Light edged along his vision.

 


 

                She was playing with them. Hiro noted, in between dodging attacks and attempting to regain his breath, that after the initial kills, the woman with the bladed umbrella wasn’t going for lethal blows. She taunted them, waving victory just out of their reach. The other woman struck when the first was in danger, but only then. This wasn’t a fight, it was entertainment.

                Hiro kicked out at the injury of one of the people still intent on taking him down, sending them to the ground. His armor weighed down on him, but surprisingly, he hadn’t broken a sweat. Not because he wasn’t tired, he could feel that deep set in his bones already, but he didn’t feel heated. It was almost… cold.

                Freezing for a moment, Hiro could have hit himself in the face for being so stupid as to forget one of his most important assets in the confusion of the fight. It was child’s play to draw on the anger and frustration (and hurt) bubbling at the edge of his conscious, feeling the first burst of warmth take root in his core. He didn’t bother aiming, knowing flames would clear the path and keep people away long enough for him to think.

                Hiro let out a strong breath, feeling a small click at the back of his throat. Fire streamed from his mouth, catching remaining patches of carpet and spreading. At the sight, a few of the remaining people backed away, heading for the door because this was too much, they’d take their chances with an angry Mr. Yama over a fire breather.

                The women’s eyes widened, the first one jolting backwards from having stood too close to the initial blast. Too bad there wasn’t any lasting damage, but the edge of her sleeve was blackened.

                Good. Hiro thought. I have something they weren’t expecting.

                Going to activate the pack on his back, Hiro lost balance when it failed to act as he expected.

                What?

                There was no response, and without his helmet, he had no way to check why it suddenly decided not to start up. He didn’t recall turning it off, in fact.

                The two women looked at each other with knowing smirks, skirting the fire, moving to flank him from either side. Hiro prepared another blast of fire, remembering how he’d run out at Fred’s and hoping he didn’t anytime soon. It wasn’t looking like he would be able to fly his way out of this one.

                Suddenly, a flare of heat surged beside him, almost unbearably so. Hiro held up a hand to shield his face as the blaze spread, and it took a moment for his eyes to shift so he could look at it.

                The couch was on fire.

                The crackling sound grew louder as the fire jumped up along the ceiling, which Hiro didn’t trust to stay up for too much longer now. But why—

                “-ro? Hiro!”

                The noise was almost deafening, but he would recognize that voice anywhere. Looking back down at the couch, he spotted movement among the flames… no, the flames were moving, not just spreading, but arching out…

                Arching out into two wings.

                “Tadashi?” Hiro called out, trying to be heard among the flames that clung to every surface, eating through any fuel source they could find.

                He couldn’t get much closer, the heat too much even for him, but he could nearly make out the form of his brother, sitting up on the remains of the couch. Tadashi wasn’t just sitting in the fire. Tadashi was the fire. It was like some twisted nightmare from years ago, but at least he didn’t seem to be in pain.

                “Hiro… where am I?” Tadashi shook, his voice dazed, and the flames surged. “Why is it so cold?”

                “I don’t—“ Hiro’s voice trembled, threatening to break. He was alive. There was more fire involved than Hiro had thought there would be, but Tadashi was alive. Right?

                He couldn’t check if this fire was all that was left of him, if there was anything human underneath. Hiro had no link to Baymax, who still wasn’t there, and he couldn’t just see for himself. The blazing skin and bright white fire where his eyes belonged frightened Hiro. If the fire ever went out, would there be anything left?

                Tadashi stood, shakily balancing with his wings outstretched. “Hiro?”

                Hiro hated that he had to flinch and back away when Tadashi approached, the temperature too high even for his changed state. Tadashi hesitated, his expression difficult to read if not for the wings drooping behind him speaking volumes. He looked around, as if seeing the fire for the first time.

                “…I did this?”

                “I helped,” Hiro joked, the words slipping out.

                Tadashi tilted his head in confusion, reminding Hiro that he didn’t know about the fire breathing. It was so difficult to keep straight who knew what, and the potential of the roof caving in didn’t help his concentration. The smell of burning flesh also proved to be a huge distractor. He needed to get out of there. Before he could suggest they try to move outside, Hiro noticed Tadashi’s attention turn to something on the ground. Something that used to be someone.

                “…hiro?” The fear in his voice, that he’d killed someone with this, tore at Hiro’s chest.

                “Th-they were dead when I got here.” If that didn’t sound like the age-old excuse, Hiro didn’t know what would, but he was being truthful if Tadashi was looking at one of the two… There was no way to tell now. “Please, Dashi, let’s leave.”

                He didn’t look at Hiro though, his gaze moving around the room. He was counting, Hiro realized with a sinking heart. He could see one of Tadashi’s fingers twitch each time he spotted a body, a ‘tell’ from when they were younger that he was trying to keep track of something.

                After a second look over the room, Tadashi turned to Hiro. “I didn’t mean— I…”

                He couldn’t finish his sentence, and Hiro moved closer to him, as close as he could before it became too painful. He still had to stand a good distance away, and it was killing him. His brother was still alive but he couldn’t reach him.

                “It’s not your fault,” Hiro said, wanting his words to get through his brother’s thick skull. His eyes shot towards the ceiling at the ominous crack. “We have to get out of here—Tadashi, can you… can you remember how to put away your wings?”

                Hiro couldn’t ask him to try and put his fire out, since that could very well be the end of him, but perhaps if his wings were gone, he could approach him. It might also stop feeding the fire that ate through the wood above them, destroying the already meager support of the building and threatening to bring it down on top of them. Why did there have to be a second floor?

                “I… I don’t think—“

                The hesitation was enough to spur Hiro into action. They didn’t have time. “Tadashi, listen to me. Run for the door over there. I’ll follow after!”

                He didn’t know if Tadashi could fit through the frame with his wings. He didn’t know if his leaving might destroy the doorway. He didn’t know for sure if there was another way out.

                But Tadashi was going to make it out of here alive, and letting a building fall on top of him probably wouldn’t help.

                Tadashi, glancing up at the awful groaning noise, realized what his fire was doing to the structure. If he moved, the fire would too, and might speed the collapse along. Hiro might not make it out, then. “But—“

                “Go!” Despite the fire that swathed it, Hiro knew Tadashi’s face well enough to read it, and he swore if he tried to be noble here, he was going to strangle him himself. “I can’t pass you!”

                Tadashi was between him and the only exit Hiro could see, which wouldn’t be bad at all if he would just move. Something must have clicked in Tadashi’s mind at those words, because he turned and ran, glancing behind to make sure Hiro was following.

                The relief from the blistering heat, the likes of which Hiro hadn’t felt in a very long time—another burning building jumped to the front of his mind, the force of the past explosion echoing like a phantom across his skin—had Hiro pausing subconsciously, knowing that moving would put him closer to the blaze again. The small fires around him were nothing, the sensation almost cooling.

                Snapping out of his daze, Hiro moved quickly towards the exit again, the edges of the door frame glowing hot where Tadashi had squeezed his way through.

                Good. He made it out.

               


 

                Tadashi quickly backed away from the building, hoping to diminish the fire that affected it and let Hiro move without having to worry about being burned. He kept his eyes on his brother, frantically urging him to hurry up. The only thing stopping him from running back in and dragging him out himself was Hiro’s inability to handle the temperatures he was currently sustaining.

                If only he could… But even as Tadashi tried, it was pointless. He simply couldn’t make the wings disappear as he had before, and he didn’t even know where to begin with what was happening to his skin.

                What was happening?

                All of this had onset so suddenly. He’d finally woken up, but to chaos, and orienting himself was one of his least important priorities at the moment. He could see his brother in the doorway, nearly letting out a breath of relief, when the house sagged, and for an instant looked like it would hold. With a horrible crack, the building collapsed, sending out a wave of force that had Tadashi airborne.

                Hanging in the air, suspended where his wings kept him aloft, Tadashi stared on in horror, the breath stolen from his lungs.

                Wait.

                That wasn’t supposed to—

                He should have had time.

                Distantly, Tadashi felt his feet reconnect with the ground, his legs folding under him as they refused to support his weight. He remained frozen in place, staring ahead.

                This was his fault.

                The fire had been his. If he’d just responded faster, moved faster, if he wasn’t this, Hiro would be—Hiro wouldn’t be—

                Tadashi couldn’t breathe. He gasped for air, spots dancing along his vision, but it wasn’t helping. None of this was real. It couldn’t be. He stood, stumbling towards the collapsed building on unsteady legs. The closer he got, the burning glow at the edge of the building shone brighter, and Tadashi quickly scampered back. If there was a chance, he couldn’t speed things along.

                He needed help, but no one called things in on this side of town. Most people were probably sleeping, and while he was like this, he couldn’t just walk up and ask… they’d probably melt. A nervous laugh broke through his lips, his brain unable to process the emotion.

                An engine’s whir rudely interrupted his thoughts, a sound that he would normally associate with a jet or some form of aircraft. A large, armored being landed beside Tadashi, heading towards the rubble and spraying down the flames with a fire extinguisher built into its arm.

                “Please stay a safe distance away from the building while evacuation is in progress,” it commanded.

                Tadashi stared, dumbstruck. He knew that mechanical voice. Was this what Hiro had meant by armor? He looked completely different, but Tadashi couldn’t bring himself to be annoyed at Hiro for messing with his project. Not this time.

                “Baymax! Where were you?” Tadashi could feel jagged sobs threatening to overtake him even as Baymax lifted rubble off of Hiro, tossing it back towards the fire and picking him up. “You could’ve—“

                “I still detect signs of life,” Baymax interrupted, the declaration allowing a spark of hope to rekindle. “But Hiro is in critical condition, and immediate medical care is required.”

                Tadashi nodded hurriedly, wondering if they had time to take Hiro’s armor off before sending him to the hospital, if only to avoid questions that would delay treatment. No, probably not, and Tadashi knew he couldn’t go with them. If only he could—

                No. He could do something. Something that even taking him to the hospital immediately wouldn’t accomplish.

                “Wait, Baymax!”

                But even as Tadashi remembered the power of his tears, he realized they were evaporating as he currently was, and to so much as get any closer to Hiro would cause more damage.

                It wasn’t an option now. He had to power down from this. …but how?

                The sensation of the flames at his back wasn’t a physical one, not like tensing a muscle, and no amount of thinking was working. Tucking his wings the last time had been accidental, and their disappearance had been aided by the speed of his fall. In the room, he’d just wished them away, but that wasn’t doing anything here.

                There had to be a way to turn this off… quickly.

                Back on the island, when he’d been falling, he’d willed his wings to grow stronger, as if on instinct. Maybe he could do the reverse, but for… everything. But how could one imagine something’s absence… unless he could make himself believe that it should be put out. That something could cause it.

                “Baymax, the fire extinguisher you used on the building, can you hit me with it?”

                “That is unsafe. The chemicals that suppress the air could do damage to—“

                “I don’t care, I won’t breathe it in, just… just aim for my back then. I have to put it out so I can help him.

                “I will not endanger a human being,” Baymax said, blinking.

                “You’re endangering him.” Tadashi was losing his patience, screwing his eyes shut as he felt time slipping through his fingers. If he couldn’t come up with something fast, Hiro needed to get other help, soon. “Fine.

                What did fire need to exist? Fuel, duh, but he wasn’t burning… Oxygen. Fire needed oxygen, that’s why Baymax’s chemicals worked. And you couldn’t die by holding your breath, you’d pass out first, if your body didn’t force you to breathe. This could work.

                Tadashi shut his eyes, forcing all of the air out of his lungs until his brain screamed for another breath. Clamping a hand over his mouth and nose, he imagined the fire dying down, struggling to think around the clamor his body was putting up for more air. He felt his feet settle more firmly on the ground, no longer slightly lifted. Encouraged, he pictured a candle flickering out, even as his head began to pulse with his heartbeat.

                Finally, he choked in a breath with a gasp, his survival instincts overriding his conscious thought. He rested his hands on his knees as he struggled to catch his breath, silver cloth visible beneath his clenched fingers. That stuff really could handle insane temperatures… wait, cloth?

                Tadashi brought his hands up to his face, no sign of flame anywhere.

                It worked.

                A sob of relief bubbled up as he hurriedly closed the gap between himself and where Baymax held Hiro’s broken form. Baymax, determining what was going to happen, crouched down so Tadashi could reach. Tadashi wiped at the tears that now streamed readily down his face, coating his hand as well as he could in the orange liquid.

                Please, please be enough.

                Tadashi was infinitely grateful for the armor Hiro had been wearing, though a helmet would have served him well, too. Despite the fire, there were no visible burns, but the debris from the house itself left large gashes across his face, some of it still embedded in the material of his armor. Blood streamed down the side of Hiro’s face, stemming from a wound along his hairline, likely the one that had knocked him out. The image burned into Tadashi’s mind.

                With a shaking hand, Tadashi reached out, wiping along the open wound to try and transfer the tears. It was inelegant, but hopefully effective.

                For a terrifying moment, there didn’t seem to be any change. Tadashi was ready to back away to give Baymax room to take off… however much that might be in his armor, when the skin began to stitch together. The wound sealed, the area above it red and then pink and then a paler tone of skin than the area around it, the new skin yet untouched by the sun.

                Tadashi’s gaze flickered between Baymax and his brother, waiting for a diagnosis. Just because things were closed now, did that mean..?

                Hiro opened his eyes, squinting at the sun and groaning as he turned away to shield his eyes.

                “What time is—“ Hiro blinked, memories surging in again. He sat upright suddenly, holding his head when dizziness hit him.

                “Please exercise caution,” Baymax warned. “Though your wounds are healed, your body still needs time to replenish lost blood.”

                Hiro ignored him, rolling out of his grip so he was crouched beside Tadashi, and pulled his brother into a bone crushing hug. He had him back. He could have done without the building collapsing on him, the memory of the pain still fresh enough to make him shudder, but he’d go through it again if it meant keeping Tadashi safe.

                For a moment Tadashi relaxed into the hug (as much as he could when Hiro’s grip was like a vice around his ribs) before he gritted his teeth, hitting Hiro where he could reach with his small fists. Hiro probably couldn’t feel it through the armor, but Tadashi didn’t care.

                “You idiot! You were supposed to be right behind me!” Tadashi’s voice broke, a hiccup of breath interrupting him for a moment. “I can’t bring back someone from the d-dead!”

                “Probably.” Hiro grunted, not expecting the force of the blow when Tadashi head butted his chest before the pseudo-five-year-old burst into tears again. “Sorry, sorry. No testing that, then.”

                Hiro ran a hand through the back of Tadashi’s hair to try and calm him down, similarly to how his older brother had done when he was younger. He turned back to Baymax in confusion. “When did you get here?”

                Tadashi’s muffled voice answered. “Right a-after the building collapsed…”

                Frowning, Hiro did the math in his head. There was no way all of that had transpired in the five to ten minutes it would have taken for Baymax to arrive after alerting Hiro to the location. Especially not if he factored in the time he’d taken to travel.

                “Where were you?” There was anger in his voice, even as he remembered that a robot, no matter how sophisticated, wouldn’t delay without good cause.

                “There was… electronic interference. My sensors detected a perimeter I could not enter without malfunctioning or shutting down.”

                Baymax’s statement alarmed Hiro. That shouldn’t be possible, you run on a battery… How?”

                “I don’t know, Hiro.” Baymax blinked, sifting through information on his chips and internal drive, looking for a possible answer, but to no avail.

                A flash of memory crossed Hiro’s mind, his failing jet pack, the looks the two women had shot each other. Did they have anything to do with it?

                Baymax continued, giving Hiro the information he had. “I was able to circle around it when it moved away, but was unable to sense anything within the perimeter.” Baymax paused for a moment. “I can no longer detect a noticeable void like it.”

                Hiro sighed, mentally filing it away for later. There was so much he’d need to think through and figure out how to deal with. Right now, his first priority was Tadashi.

                “Come on, let’s get out of here before someone comes along.” Or comes back. Hiro thought angrily, uncertain of the fates of any of his and Tadashi’s attackers. When Tadashi had finally woken up, he’d taken precedence, and anyone left had (in some cases literally) gone up in smoke. He wasn’t going to wait around for their return.

                Hiro attempted to activate his jet pack, wondering if, since whatever had prevented Baymax from joining them was gone, they might work too. There was no response.

                “Guess we’re walking.” Hiro started off in the direction of the café with Tadashi still in his arms when Baymax stood and walked alongside, offering another suggestion.

                “Perhaps it would be better to get off the streets quickly. I can carry you both. Tadashi does not have any magnets as you do, but I can hold him in front.”

                Hiro frowned, nearly refusing before he caught himself. He’d be right there, it wasn’t like Baymax was going to drop Tadashi or anything. What was he thinking?

                “Fine.” Hiro turned, letting Tadashi reach out and settle himself on Baymax. Only when he looked secure did Hiro go around the back, clambering up and letting his magnets lock in place. “Come on, Baymax. Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

Sunday Evening

Nov. 28

Hamada Residence

-

 

           “...what?” Wasabi was the only one not rendered speechless, but even he seemed to barely get the word out.

 

           Looks of confusion (individually morphing to anger, concern, embarrassment) overtook the group’s faces as Hiro finally stopped his hushed tirade to breathe. He ran a hand through Tadashi’s bangs, gentle enough to not wake him, but enough to reassure himself that he was still there, breathing, not dead .

 

           From the moment Baymax had touched down outside of the cafe, Hiro had not let Tadashi out of his sight. Not when he’d had Baymax call an emergency meeting, not when Tadashi passed out on the couch (Hiro feared the exhaustion was more than just the result of using his abilities too openly), not when the others had arrived, and not even when the others had expressed their joy and shock and questions. He didn’t look away, nor move from Tadashi’s side, his absence too fresh and raw, the scent of smoke and flame sticking to them to remind him of the first time he’d lost him.

 

           He’d gotten a second and third chance, he wouldn’t mess up again. He couldn’t.

 

           “Hiro, are you sure?” Fred prompted, a tremor in his voice that asked for another explanation. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the information that had been dumped in his lap, the news of another betrayal, and the danger that came with it.

 

           Hiro broke his gaze to glare up at Fred, his hand stilling on Tadashi’s forehead. The look in his eyes was enough that Wasabi spoke for Fred instead, knowing he’d probably stick his foot in his mouth. Hiro was angry enough as it was.

 

           “It just doesn’t… Sound like him...” Wasabi trailed off, the weak reasoning sounding hollow, even as doubt swirled in his brain. “I dunno, man, from how you described it, is it possible that--”

 

           “No.” Hiro cut him off, not even willing to entertain the thought that there might be more to this. Not now. He didn’t want excuses. He didn’t want reasoning. He didn’t care about some convoluted situation. That man had endangered Tadashi, shot him , and there wasn’t a doubt in Hiro’s mind that he’d taken Tadashi in the first place. It was too much of a coincidence otherwise, and he wasn’t going to allow his friends to pick it apart when they needed to be doing something, anything, to counteract what could be coming.

 

           Hiro spoke again into the silence. “When Tadashi wakes, he’ll tell the rest. You’ll see.”

 

           The weight of his words sat upon the group, Fred not even pointing out the lack of the use of Tadashi’s nickname, far too occupied with mentally digesting everything. Gogo glared at the ground in front of her, silent aside from the quiet rasping of her fingernails along the zipper of her jacket. Chewing at her lower lip, Honey Lemon worried the edges of her phone case, fraying the softer plastic, but didn’t seem to notice. Hiro barely stopped himself from reaching out and taking it from her. The quietness was stifling, but no one seemed to know how to break it.

 


 

Early Monday Morning

Nov. 29

Underground

-

           

           Himitsu grimaced as he gingerly made his way down one of the many winding hallways, keeping his steps as level as he could. It was a trip and a half to get back to where they were keeping Jadoku while he healed; there had to be a better system. Whatever. Walking was good for you… or something.  

 

           “Hey!”

 

           Himitsu turned his head towards the voice, grinning easily when he recognized the woman approaching him, gliding along on skates like she owned the place. “Bella, what are you still doin’ here? Thought ya hated it.”

 

           “Nah,” Bella shook her head, slowing her gait so she didn’t speed ahead of him. “It’s under water I hate. And you’ve gotta deal with that to get here, so… yeah, I’ll just stick to the mainland. I’ve got something to do up top in a couple days,” Bella gestured vaguely. “So I figured the fewer times I gotta go through that death trap, the better. Be sides, I wanna talk to him!”

 

           “Get in line…” Himitsu muttered. “Doctor’s not sure when he’ll wake up, let alone if he’ll be coherent ...”

 

           After an answering hum from Bella, they walked in silence for a moment, a rarity when it was the two of them, until—

 

           “You’re walking funny,” Bella pointed out, half teasing.

 

           “Shut it.” His voice didn’t carry as much venom as it could have.

 

           “Oi.” Bella skated around in front of him. “Just ‘cuz I’m not allowed to kill you, doesn’t mean I can’t kick your ass.” Her semi-serious face was interrupted with a manic grin as she tried to hold in the laughter long enough to speak. “Which… I don’t think you want right now.”

 

           She finally allowed herself to burst into laughter at the face he pulled at that.

 

           “Yeah, yeah, you’re a riot.” Himitsu shook his head.

 

           “...ugh, now that song’s stuck in my head, thanks .”

           

           Himitsu ignored her as she started humming that very tune. He paused in front of their destination, hesitating slightly as he hoped…

 

           “You forget your combo?” Bella looked up at him, something like understanding in her eyes, despite the question.

 

           “Nah.” Himitsu punched the buttons on the side panel in quick succession to let them into the room. “Just took me a sec.”

 

           Beyond the door, the room was near silent, only the quiet beeps of the monitoring machines letting them know there was an occupant at all. Himitsu knew it hadn’t been quite a day yet, but with head injuries thrown in the mix, the sooner Jadoku woke up, the better. There was no change, though at this point that didn’t mean much.

 

           “He’s a mess.” Bella’s blunt words interrupted Himitsu’s thoughts, and he glared over at her. She shrugged, unabashed. “Well, he is.”

 

           ...she wasn’t wrong.

 

           Whatever had gone down between Jadoku walking into the no longer existent ‘safe’ house and walking out hadn’t been kind to him. The concussion left dark bruises around his eyes, and while Himitsu was no doctor, he was pretty sure that counted as a bad thing. The only saving grace was the absence of clear fluid drainage, which as far as Himitsu had seen, meant the person wasn’t going to recover fully, if at all. The doctor hadn’t been quite sure what to do about the scaling, but had determined that where it existed, it helped more than hurt, so just left it be. They were fairly widespread at this point, branching out from known injury locations, as if trying to protect more than what was already hurt.

 

           But Himitsu doubted Bella meant entirely physically, with that comment.

 

           “He’ll be fine.” Himitsu plopped down in the observation chair backwards, wincing at the careless movement before resting his arms on the back and absentmindedly tracing the dark lines branching back from his own wrist. There was a moment of blessed quietness that was broken by Bella’s laughter. Himitsu turned his head on his arms to look at her in mild exasperation.

 

           “Yes?”

 

            You. Your face, just-” Bella gestured at him, “All of this. It’s funny. It’s been funny, but this just takes the cake.”

 

           Himitsu huffed, intent on ignoring her.

 

           “Aw, don’t want to talk to big sis? I promise your ‘himitsu’ is safe--”

 

           “Yer like a year younger than me!” So much for that.

 

           Bella shrugged, undeterred. “Women mature faster.”

 

           “I’m 24 , I think I’d’ve caught you by now .”

 

           “And yet…” Bella spread her arms, as if addressing the entire room.

 

           He shook his head. “...So you never did tell me why that buildin’s no longer standing.”

 

           “Wow, subject change much?” Bella crossed her arms, leaning back on her skates. “Fine, fine. Long story short: fire-breather, plus walking pillar of fire, plus wooden structure equals no more building.”

 

           “That was so helpful. Thank you. Couldn’t have figured that out on my own.”

 

           “Well, if you’d been good, you could’ve heard the ‘official report’.” Bella grinned at his annoyed expression, before her own turned thoughtful. “But I’d trade info for info. Any reason in particular their stuff stopped working?”

 

           Himitsu frowned in confusion at her. “What, y’all thought I was just going to sit there and wait?”

 

           “Pfft, no.” Bella’s grin was back. “But good as you are, there’s no way you could’ve set up unless you knew ahead of time, and you were pissed, so I don’t think… You were too far away, anyway.”

 

           “Except I wasn’t.” Himitsu waved her closer, easing Jadoku’s right arm out from under the blanket, mindful of the scales. “See?”

 

           He indicated to the black band around Jadoku’s wrist. Light pressure against the smoother part activated a blue light that disappeared when he let go.

 

           Bella’s eyebrows raised. “You got it to work?”

 

           “Course I did.” Himitsu frowned, vaguely insulted. “It hadn’t been field tested yet, but drastic times and all…”

 

           Bella nodded, considering it. “Well. That changes things.”

 

           “Not as much as you’d think. Not yet.” Himitsu settled his head back on his arms, letting his thoughts wander.

 

           Bella stood awkwardly for a moment, shifting back and forth on her skates. “...Welp, this is too heavy for me. I’m getting food, you coming?”

 

           “Nah, I’m not hungry.”

 

            That’s a lie if I ever heard one.” Bella grinned widely. “Besides, don’t you want the official report?”

 

           “Nothin’s stopping you from giving it now.” Himitsu yawned, debating the comfort of the chair he was in. “Later’s probably better, though. Dunno how much I’ll retain.”

 

           “No, no, I get it. You care about him more than me.” She let out a dramatic sigh, before skating for the door. “Lemme know if anything changes.”

 


 

Monday

Nov. 29

Hamada Residence

-

 

           “It’s okay, Hiro,” Tadashi tried to reassure his brother, knowing that particular expression all too well.

 

           “I’m just saying you don’t have to talk about it if…” Hiro gestured vaguely with his hand, concern etched firmly into his face. “You know.”

 

           “I said it was fine.” Tadashi crossed his arms. “I don’t even remember much, so talking about it’s not going to hurt.”

 

           Gogo rested her hand on Tadashi’s shoulder, giving Hiro a cold look when he moved as if to object. “We’re all here for you, but if talking one on one would be better…”

 

           “No, this is fine,” Tadashi insisted. “I don’t know how much help it will be, though.”

 

           He sighed, tucking his feet up underneath him on the couch as he looked around at the others. Hiro had filled them in on everything he knew, but there were holes in his information that only Tadashi could patch at this point.

 

           “Guess I’ll start at the beginning?” Tadashi cleared his throat, the weight of his friends’ gazes upon him. “I was crossing that bridge right before you get to the shopping district with the bookstore- it was a bookstore, right?- And Kyouji was just sitting there, I almost didn’t see him, but red’s kind of noticeable…”

 

           Tadashi pretended he didn’t notice Hiro’s flinch and the remaining tension at the name, continuing on to the best of his knowledge. “He looked kinda sad just sitting there with his bag and Hiro’d been looking for him, so I went to talk to him-”

 

           “Wait, his bag?” Hiro interrupted, brow creasing.

 

           Frowning at the interruption, Tadashi turned towards his brother. “Yeah? Pretty sure.”

 

           “Hold up,” Hiro moved to go downstairs, before stopping. “Actually, Tadashi, come with me.”

 

           The others looked amongst themselves, but refrained from comment as the brothers left the room. Hiro marched down the stairs, keeping close enough to have an eye on Tadashi at the same time.

 

           He flicked on the lights in the storage room, looking around for what he knew had to still be there.

 

           “Hiro?” Tadashi asked gently, seeing the ire in Hiro’s mannerisms. “What’s-”

 

           “The bag , there should be a bag in here, he left it behind…”

 

           Looking around, Tadashi didn’t spot anything out of place, or anything extra that didn’t belong. “I don’t see one.”

 

            I know that, ” Hiro snapped. “But I didn’t move it, and you didn’t know it was here, and no one else should have been back here… is there anything else missing?”

 

           “How would I know? I just got back.”

 

           “I know, I know, I just…” Hiro sighed shakily. “We’ve gotta change the locks, we have to… I don’t know, but someone got in, and we didn’t even realize , and-”

 

           “Hiro. Breathe. Take deep breaths.”

 

           “Not as good an idea as you think.” Hiro laughed lightly, helplessly. “I’d rather not burn the cafe down, thanks.”

 

           “Okay, well…” Tadashi was at a loss of how to help, but Hiro was already moving, pacing.

 

           “Was there anybody else with him? Maybe one of them- but there was nothing important in the bag…” Probably. Hiro hadn’t looked very far past the clothes.

 

           “Yeah, if you’d let me get there, I’d have told you.” Tadashi didn’t do much to temper the bite in his words, but Hiro didn’t seem to notice, his attention on the other potential people that could’ve intruded on their home . “There was another guy on the bridge, and he came to talk to Kyouji about… some party or something. And then-”

 

           “Describe him, or what you remember.” Hiro wanted something to go off of.

 

           “I don’t know, there wasn’t anything special about him.” Tadashi was getting annoyed at the continued interruptions, though he knew Hiro was just dealing with this the way he knew how to. Knowledge was power, or something like that. “Tall, dark hair, looked Japanese, like half of San Fransokyo ,” it was an exaggeration, but Tadashi was past caring. “He was kind of dark, though, and he had these weird black lines on one of his hands, like a tattoo or something but I wasn’t paying attention.” Tadashi shrugged.

 

           Sighing, Hiro sat on one of the boxes. “Too bad we can’t take you in for a police sketch or something. Not that they’re any help.” Hiro ran a hand back through his hair, gripping it for a moment as he tried to think around everything that was going on.

 

           Tadashi nearly asked why, before realizing the nature of… well, his nature,could cause issues if brought to light. “So what’re we going to do?”

 

           Hiro bit his lower lip, before his eyes widened minutely, and he waved back towards the stairs. “Come on, I need to talk to Honey Lemon.”

-

 

           “Do you still have those pictures?” Hiro could have asked in a less direct method, or even explained himself a bit more, but the look on Honey Lemon’s face meant she knew exactly what he was talking about: the photos she’d taken of Kyouji while he was in the shop.

 

           It was their best chance of finding him, since Hiro had discovered the night before, that according to any records he could get his hands on, ‘Kyouji Shakuzai’ didn’t exist. Not that he’d been entirely surprised at that point, but it did make things more difficult. But this could change that.

 

           Hiro had pulled Honey Lemon aside from the group, far enough they wouldn’t be overheard as Tadashi spoke to the rest of the group, but placed so he could still keep an eye on him.

 

           “Hiro, I-”

 

           Hiro waved away the clear embarrassment, too impatient for it. “It’s okay, you didn’t know, he tricked you just like he did the rest of us, but this is important.”

 

           “I deleted them off my phone,” Honey Lemon began, and Hiro deflated until she continued to speak. “But they are probably still in the cloud back-up, since it hasn’t been a month yet.”

 

           “Great. Get those, send them to me, and I can try to piece together a report for the police that won’t have them knowing what we are, too.” Hiro folded his arms, attention divided. “We can at least pretend they can be helpful.”

 

           Honey Lemon nodded, remaining silent. Debating with Hiro about this would be useless, though she couldn’t help the bubble of concern regarding the way this was headed.


 

December

Underground

-

 

            You’re not supposed to be up and about, mister.” Himitsu frowned, readying himself to stand from the couch in case Jadoku stumbled.

 

           Shrugging, Jadoku joined him. “They said I’m fine, just no more hits to the head any time soon.”

 

           “No, they said you’ll be fine, if you don’t hit yer head. Like you’d do by falling and busting it open.” Himitsu sighed, letting it go, since Jadoku was no longer on his feet at the moment.

 

           Jadoku grimaced, the mental image making him more nauseous than he already was. “It was too quiet in there.”

 

           The background noise of the city and passing cars and street fights, along with other unwanted noises, was what Jadoku was used to. But here, underground, everything felt cut off from the outside world. The silence was unnerving, and the quiet beeps of machines only made it more so. Even just the background noise of the tv in this room was preferable.

 

           “What are you watching?” Jadoku didn’t particularly care, but it was something to say.

 

           “News.” Himitsu didn’t bother to elaborate, though he reached for the remote.

 

           “Thrilling.”

 

           “Nah, but there was a bit earlier, someone you might recognize.” Himitsu rewound the tv, pausing on a particular segment.

 

           “Kyouji?” Jadoku crossed his arms, an unreadable expression on his face. “Hmm, nope, don’t know who he is.”

 

           “Course not.” Himitsu snickered. Someone was feeling better. “‘Sides, you don’t have to worry about it, yer safe here from the big bad thief.”

 

           Jadoku rolled his eyes, only refraining from shaking his head because he knew at this point it would hurt.

 

           Himitsu’s tone turned serious after a moment’s pause. “When all o’ that calms itself down, we’ll go in and wipe it. They won’t ev en notice. Trust me.”

 

           “...yeah. Okay.”


 

????

Unknown

-

           He was being too violent today… doesn’t he know by now that they’ll only make it worse for him?

 

           Nathan tapped against one of the bars that divided the room, waiting to be noticed.

 

           “What’s gotten into you lately?” Nathan whispered, not wanting to startle him. Whenever Neil got like this, it took days to wind back down, but what could have possibly triggered it this time?

 

           “Are you talking to it again?”

 

           Nathan jumped at the stern voice behind him, blue eyes fixing on the floor as he turned and stood straight out of habit, arms flat by his side. He wasn’t a threat; he couldn’t be seen as a threat or they wouldn’t let him walk free, and then he couldn’t come down here.

 

           “Yes, ma’am. I just-“ A sharp ‘tsk’ cut him off and he fell silent.

 

           “It can’t understand you, you know,” She chastised, unlocking a metal panel an d sliding a tray of food in before hurriedly snapping it shut again. “You’re only wasting time.”

 

           “I’m sorry.”

 

           “If you’re going to laze around down here, you may as well take on feeding duty.” The technician checked a couple things off her clipboard, making a small note in the margins. “After all, you’ll heal faster if it bites you.”

 

           Nathan nodded quietly, watching through the bars. Neil wouldn’t bite him anyway, not on purpose. He wouldn’t bite anyone outside of this state of mind, if they’d just leave him alone

 

           A short series of high pitched beeps distracted Nathan, making him cringe and want to shield his ears, his previous train of thought shattered. How could they stand it?

 

           The technician answered her communicator, frowning at the interruption. She had other things to attend to, why would they waste her time? Nathan did his best to ignore the voices coming from it as the message came through, aware that they didn’t like when he ‘listened in’ to things. He nearly gave himself away when a particular phrase caught his attention.

 

           Surely he’d misheard.

 

           The doctor paled, asking for clarification. “You’re sure? …Understood.”

 

           Nathan didn’t flinch when she abruptly turned to him, but it was a near thing.

 

           “Arata and Yuma are dead.”

 

           The confirmation sent Nathan’s head buzzing.

 

           How? Who? Had they found him? But he’d said he didn’t kill… he’d been so adamant, they…

 

           Even so, the overwhelming relief nearly made Nathan miss her following orders.

 

           “When it’s done, remove the tray, we don’t want to leave it a weapon, and then report to your quarters. Stay there until new overseers have been assigned. Am I clear?” They wouldn’t risk another break out.

 

           “Yes, ma’am.”

 

           Nathan waited until she was out of sight before slumping against the enclosure, letting out a breath of relief. Surely the new people couldn’t be as bad… right? He felt something nudge against his shoulder.

 

           “Hey. It’ll be alright.” He spoke to Neil in the cage, comforting him when he whined, pressing against the bars. “It’s okay, brother. I’ll be back.”