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~ Tadashi never fails to save Hiro. ~

Night life in San Fransokyo pulsed between excitement and danger. All-night casinos, karaoke bars, and dance clubs drew the attention of the Alphas wanting to find a partner and Betas wanting to relieve the day’s boredom. Omega singers, waitresses, and dancers offered veiled smiles and shy invitations to interested parties throughout the bright life of downtown San Fransokyo. Downtown, though more crowded, was by far safer than the back alley on the outskirts of the city’s harbor whose location could be found on the right Internet sites.

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada clutched Megabot to his chest, flinching at coarse shouts and insults as he pushed his way through to the front of the crowd. The smell of fish and salt tinged the air even as downwind as the location was from the ocean, making the boy’s eyes water. Teenagers, college students, and adults all sneered at Hiro as he passed, elbowing their friends or partners to draw even more attention to the small boy. Hiro kept his eyes lowered, his thoughts focused on difficult equations and scenarios to keep his lips from twitching into a cocky smirk. Let them think he was in over his head—they’d learn soon enough.

Word hadn’t quite yet spread of the young boy that had been destroying the champions of each Bot Fight arena in the past month. Rumors circulated on the fringes of Bot Fighting society but had yet to take root. Hiro hoped that his triumph tonight would spur the rumors into a raging fire, his Bot’s name on everyone’s lips as they looked over their shoulders every night for Hiro Hamada, Bot Fighter Extraordinaire.

The only hurdle in the way of Hiro’s grand scheme was the overall Bot Fighting champion. Street Bot Fights, while not illegal themselves, tended to err on the wrong side of the law because of copious amounts of gambling. Fight locations were posted every night on password protected sites thirty minutes before the start of the first round to make it harder on the police to find and break up the rings. Champion Bot Fighters handled their infamy along the same lines—each champion took a nickname and told a fight’s organizer that they would show up only fifteen minutes before the first fight.

A week's worth of research went into Hiro discovering the overall champion’s whereabouts. The spontaneous announcements usually put the champion at a ring too far for Hiro to get to in time. Only tonight had the champion decided to grace the furthest ring within Hiro’s turf, and he had feared the thought of the champion slipping back into the stream of fights before Megabot had his chance at glory.

The boy had snuck out of his home while his older brother was in the shower. His aunt had already retired for the night. He had received strange looks on the bullet train, but people kept to themselves after dark. San Fransokyo, while huge and overpopulated, was viewed as one of the safest cities in which to raise children. Plenty of Alphas and Betas lived within its streets, offering protection, while a good number of Omegas meant that valued caregiving was a necessity.

Now at the forefront of the crowd, Hiro heard the sounds of scraping metal, buzzing saws, and the clunk of metal feet. He grinned when he finally caught sight of the Bots, watching the remainder of the fight and searching for flaws in the style and Bots themselves. From the angle between a bony-hipped woman and another’s Bot, he couldn’t tell which fighter belonged to the reigning champion and which belonged to the contender. The larger Bot fell and the crowd shifted in their excitement, allowing Hiro to push for a better look. A teenage girl with pink hair and plenty of piercings had her back to the crowd, but her shoulders showed her cockiness in lieu of her smile as she directed her Bot to approach her downed opponent.

Hiro knew the girl had lost as soon as she took the first step. He watched with disdain as the other Bot cut apart the girl’s, believing the outcome to be her just desserts for overstepping her comfort zone. Champions didn’t make those types of mistakes which meant the person Hiro was looking for sat on the other side of the ring. He tilted his head, straining to catch his first glimpse of Little Yama. He needn’t have worried as the man in question jumped to his feet, full to bursting with pride.

Yama’s Bot Fighter name matched his physical stature to a frightening degree. Hiro felt a small shudder ripple across his skin at the champion’s sheer mass and height. Plans couldn’t be rescheduled, however, since Yama’s attendance at Bot Fights varied. Hiro’s one chance at defeating the champ glared at him from the man’s smirk on the other side of the ring.

“Can I try?” The amount of time it took to perfect the timid voice Hiro donned for Bot goers’ benefit was well-spent. People at every single arena he’d visited had laughed and mocked him and Megabot. Every referee and every fighter had told him the same that this referee and Yama did with those condescending smirks. His small amount of pocket change and timid personality often changed a fighter’s mind, thinking that they could send this scrappy little kid crawling back home with his tail tucked between his legs.

“Prepare your bot. Zero.” Yama chuckled to himself, pleased with his own joke as titters ran through the surrounding crowd.

Hiro sat across from Yama, casting the large man a wary look with practiced ease while his mind searched for weaknesses. A big guy like Yama surely had a temper, not to mention his cockiness was sure to work against the man once Hiro flipped the battle. He sat with his back ramrod straight, his legs tucked beneath his body though he appeared to have little flexibility. When Yama cracked his neck, Hiro replicated the motion and supplied his own noises, earning more mocking laughter. No doubt lingered in Hiro’s mind that Yama identified as an Alpha.

“Two bots enter—one bot leaves.” The referee glanced between the two fighters, her one visible eye shining as she caught Hiro’s gaze. She was probably an Alpha, too. Female referees like her were rare and needed steel-hardened veins to handle irate losers. Hiro averted his gaze once she started smirking.

“Fight!”

Hiro fumbled with his controller, his movements forcing Megabot’s reactions to jerk all over the place. No matter the number of Bot Fights Hiro had entered, the contestants still hadn’t caught on to his strategy.

Yama ripped through Megabot, the latter robot landing in three separate pieces. Laughter filled the alley, Yama’s booming over everyone, as Hiro hovered over his bot feigning surprise.

“One more fight, please?”

“Go home, kid.” Yama grinned, his fat fingers inching toward the money on the collection plate.

“I have more money.” Hiro pulled the wad of cash from his back pocket, holding it out toward the referee and Yama. The two adults exchanged glances, the referee shaking her head while Yama grinned.

“Place your bet, Zero.” Yama rolled his shoulders again and cracked his knuckles.

Hiro pressed his bet onto the collection plate, his eyes flitting between the referee and Yama while he retook his seat on his side of the ring.

The referee lowered her umbrella between the two bots again, her gaze piercing into Hiro’s. “Two bots enter. One bot leaves,” she remained silent for a dramatic pause before shouting, “Fight!”

Hiro smirked, pressing a button on his controller that doubled its size. “Megabot. Destroy.”

His small bot quivered and reattached itself, his smiling face switching to his angry look once Hiro began pressing buttons in rapid succession. Megabot danced circles around Little Yama, dodging every frantic attack up until the point Megabot dismantled the larger robot’s body and turned its own limbs against it.

Silence followed the abrupt end of the match when Megabot popped off Little Yama’s head. Yama sputtered, confusion turning to rage the longer Hiro spoke about how some fights are just lost. His voice tapered off into a squeak when Yama stood—towered—over him

“Show the little brat what happens when someone hustles Little Yama.” The bot fighter shoved Hiro against the brick wall, a sneer pulling at his lips as three lackeys attempted to take Yama’s place.

Hiro recoiled, his shoulders drawing up to his neck. “H-Hey, guys! Let’s, uh,” he gulped, gripping Megabot tighter, “talk this through? Maybe?”

One of the men bared his teeth, smirking at the young teenager, and extended his hand toward Hiro’s face. The boy squeaked, ducking beneath the man’s grasp only to hit his hand with Megabot. The thug howled, cradling his aching hand against his chest, and retreated. Despite the unexpected attack, the other two men continued to surround Hiro.

“Hiro!”

His name on his older brother’s lips jump-started Hiro’s mind. “Tadashi,” he shouted, straining to look around the men. With his brother’s arrival, Hiro didn’t have to worry about anything—Tadashi would find a way out of this mess.

Tadashi Hamada jumped off his scooter, his eyes blazing as he approached the men surrounding Hiro. At first they appeared to want to stand their ground against the older Hamada brother. Upon catching his scent, however, the two men changed their minds, tripping over their own feet to move out of his way.

“Are you hurt?” Tadashi knelt in front of Hiro, eyes raking over the younger’s frame and checking for any injuries.

“No, I’m fine, but Tadashi, we should really get out of here.” Hiro glanced over his brother’s shoulder. “I mean, Yama’s pretty mad and—”

“Wants his money back.” The Bot Fighter’s booming voice reverberated around the alley.

Hiro shrunk behind Tadashi, his wide eyes betraying the fear and worry he’d been battling since winning against the Champion. Tadashi stood, the fire returning to his eyes. Turning to face Yama, he drew himself up even further, his back ramrod straight, shoulders stiff, and feet firmly planted in front of Hiro. The younger brother grabbed the hem of Tadashi’s cardigan.

“Tadashi, come on! Let’s just get out of here,” Hiro hissed, desperately attempting to pull his older brother back to the scooter.

“You’re not going to touch him.” The chill in Tadashi’s words froze Hiro’s movements. “I won’t allow it.” A soft warning growl lingered beneath Tadashi’s otherwise level tone of voice.

Silence plagued the alley, the onlookers holding their breaths just as much as Hiro as they waited for Yama’s reaction. The Bot Fighter towered over Tadashi. Their eyes remained glued to one another, neither moving a muscle nor giving an inch. Yama shifted after a moment, the corner of his lip pulling into a half-smirk. Tadashi’s soft growl answered the perceived threat.

Frozen, his fingers digging into Tadashi’s clothes, Hiro watched the exchange, hardly daring to breathe. Interrupting a territorial dispute between Alphas ended poorly for the person in the middle. Though fear overwhelmed Hiro at the thought of his older brother being hurt because of him, he could do nothing to alleviate the situation save for hoping that Yama would back down.

Moment after moment passed, Tadashi and Yama continuing their stare-down, until the latter sighed. With his exhalation, the fight left his body. “The brat’s not worth it. It’s not like I’ve lost too much tonight.” The Bot Fighter focused a glare on the boy. “Don’t think you’ll get away that easily again, Zero.”

Yama spat on the ground between himself and the Hamada brothers, gracing them with a final glare before making his exit. Tadashi remained on the alert, his glare moving along the walls of the alley, searching for another threat. Onlookers lowered their eyes, a respectful admission to the strongest Alpha at the time, and offered no problems when Tadashi herded Hiro the scooter. Whispers rippled amongst the crowd as Tadashi started the scooter, the people parting before him to make a path out of the alley.

Conversation between the Hamada brothers didn’t start until Tadashi turned onto a friendlier, busier street.

“What were you thinking, knucklehead?” Tadashi reached around, hitting a flustered Hiro along the shoulders and helmet. “You could’ve been hurt!”

“But I wasn’t! You showed up just in the nick of time, as usual. Thanks for that.” Hiro played off his earlier worry, the bright lights of the street already working against his previous emotions.

“And if I hadn’t showed up? What about that—do you ever think about that, Hiro?” Tadashi directed the scooter around a slower car, casting an annoyed look at its window. “What do you think would’ve happened if I hadn’t known where you were?”

Hiro shook his head, refusing to think about the very real possibilities. “I had it under control. For the most part.”

“Unbelievable,” Tadashi muttered, shaking his head. “You have such a big brain, you have so much going for you, and that is what you decide to do with your life? I mean, couldn’t you have at least turned your fascination with robots to good use?”

Rolling his eyes, Hiro opened his mouth, but Tadashi cut him off.

“The medical field uses robotics for surgeries. Maybe even the architectural field could use some handy robots to help with the more dangerous situations. But no, you decide to build a fighting robot and gamble away your allowance.” Tadashi took a turn too sharp in his anger, the scooter skidding from the speed.

Hiro gulped, his arms tightening around Tadashi. He felt his older brother take a few deep breaths, calming his righteous temper and reasserting protective older brother mode.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Hiro?”

Burying his face into Tadashi’s shoulder, Hiro nodded and muttered, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”

“That’s good, because we have a pit stop to make before heading home.”

Warning bells flared at the smug tone in Tadashi’s voice. Hiro lifted his head enough to look over Tadashi’s shoulder. At the sight of the huge, brightly lit school building looming before them, Hiro couldn’t help but groan.