This coding project was going to be the end of Tadashi. He knew it. The library was going to close soon, and his partner still hadn’t shown up. He put his arms over his head and stretched. It didn’t ease the ache in his back. He glared jealously at Wasabi, who was gathering up his things to leave.
Tadashi moved his bag off the chair next to him, ludicrously hoping that his partner would appear out of thin air to sit on it.
Wasabi caught Tadashi’s glare and made a mock-offended gesture at him.
“What did I do?” he asked once he was within earshot.
“Get assigned a better partner,” said Tadashi. Wasabi clicked his tongue sympathetically.
“Did they even text you back yet?” he asked.
“No,” groaned Tadashi.
“That stinks,” said Wasabi. His partner, who always arrived early with snacks, nodded in agreement.
“Well, you know Aiello always--,” began Tadashi.
“Good evening,” said Professor Callaghan, suddenly emerging from behind the bookstacks. They all jumped.
He quirked an eyebrow. “Is that Professor Patel’s coding project?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Tadashi.
“It’s nice to see you all working on your projects so far from their due dates.” Tadashi couldn’t tell whether Professor Callaghan was joking. The project was due in three weeks. Was that a long time?
“Yeah, well, we’re all nerds,” Wasabi’s partner answered for him. She cracked her knuckles and reached for a book.
“Ugh, can you go to the bathroom to do that? I hate the sound.” Wasabi cringed theatrically.
Much to Tadashi’s surprise, Professor Callaghan placed his textbooks on the table and pulled up the chair meant for his lab partner.
“You all look tired,” he said
“We’ve been here a while,” admitted Wasabi.
“I can tell,” said Professor Callaghan, surveying the detritus of Tadashi’s work: textbooks, journals, and the remains of his dinner. “I hope you’ll call it a night soon.”
Tadashi checked the time on his phone. “The library closes in an hour, so I don’t have much of a choice.” Aiello still hadn’t replied, but Aunt Cass texted to ask if Hiro was with him.
“Good. I’ve seen too many students burn out from overworking themselves.”
“Definitely,” said Tadashi. With some difficulty, he flexed his right hand. He winced when one of his knuckles cracked, echoing in the quiet library.
Professor Callaghan hummed in concern. “You know, there’s a nerve you can pinch to relax your hand.”
“Cool, where is it?” Tadashi asked, more out of politeness than a genuine desire to know.
“It’s easier to demonstrate on someone else,” said Professor Callaghan.
Tadashi inhaled in surprise when Professor Callaghan took hold of his arm. He shot Wasabi a slightly confused look over Professor Callaghan’s shoulder, which Wasabi returned.
Professor Callaghan folded the sleeve of Tadashi’s t-shirt up. “It’s about halfway between the elbow and shoulder.” Always a teacher, he kept two fingers on the spot while he waited until Tadashi’s eyes were on him.
Once he had Tadashi’s attention, he said “It’s right by the tricep.” He poked Tadashi’s arm for emphasis. The novelty hadn’t worn off. Tadashi felt weird, sitting so close to Professor Callaghan. It was almost like--well, it was, actually, sitting next to one of his childhood heroes.
“Now, press down--don’t be afraid to be firm.” He certainly wasn’t afraid. Against its will, Tadashi’s hand uncurled, even though the rest of his body remained tense.
Professor Callaghan held on a little longer than necessary, probably to make sure that Tadashi’s muscles were completely lax. When he finally realized that Wasabi and his partner loitered to watch, he released Tadashi’s arm.
“Well, I need to be going. I have a paper of my own to work on, heh heh.” He gave Tadashi’s bicep a parting pat. “And Tadashi--”
Tadashi tensed again.
“You need to tell me more about your exercise routine.”
“That was a little weird,” said Wasabi.
“Yeah, it’s not every day that a department head sits down with a group of undergrads and relaxes their muscles,” said Wasabi’s partner.
“I guess he was feeling friendly today,” said Tadashi, and unrolled his sleeve. He quickly texted Hiro that Aunt Cass was looking for him and Aunt Cass that no, Hiro wasn’t there.
Tadashi was so immersed in typing his end-of-week report that he didn’t hear Professor Callaghan walk in for inspections. He only looked up when he heard a quiet ‘tsk.’
“Mr. Hamada,” said Professor Callaghan, “your posture is terrible.”
Guiltily, Tadashi straightened up. Professor Callaghan shook his head.
“You’re going to have back problems if you sit like that,” he said.
“I’ll be more careful in the future,” said Tadashi. He returned to his work. He didn’t hear any Professor Callaghan walking away to look at Baymax.
He bent his head down toward his tablet again, expecting Professor Callaghan to examine Baymax while Tadashi wrote up a more detailed report, the usual routine.
“You’re hunched over again,” said Professor Callaghan instead. With a token smile at Professor Callaghan, Tadashi readjusted his posture.
Professor Callaghan stopped by the side of Tadashi’s desk and bent down to his level. He tilted the tablet towards Professor Callaghan, assuming he wanted to see the report.
“Here,” he said, and placed his hand, shockingly warm in the overly air-conditioned workroom, between Tadashi’s shoulder blades. Tadashi immediately sat up ramrod-straight at the unexpected contact. Professor Callaghan chuckled.
“Lean forward, just a little,” said Professor Callaghan. He reinforced his words with his hand. Tadashi obeyed, memories of his father teaching him to bow floating to the forefront of his mind. Obasan and Ojiisan are visiting soon. I want them to see what a polite boy you are, he had said. Tadashi wished he remembered the visit itself.
Professor Callaghan’s voice brought Tadashi out of his split-second daydream. “You’ll strain your neck if you keep it out like that. Tilt it down a little.” Tadashi did as he was told.
Professor Callaghan eyed Tadashi critically. “No, not that far,” he said. His hand slid up to the back of Tadashi’s neck. Goosebumps stood up on Tadashi’s skin.
“A little further up,” Professor Callaghan, pressing gently right before the knob where neck became spine. His thumb rested ever so slightly under the neck of Tadashi’s t-shirt. Tadashi lifted his head minutely.
“Perfect,” said Professor Callaghan. He looked at his watch.
“Finish up quickly, so you get home before it’s dark,” he said.
“Oh, I’m going out for pizza with my friends,” said Tadashi.
“Even better. Don’t keep them waiting.”
Tadashi was so hungry, that even the mushrooms Gogo and Fred insisted be on the pizza didn’t deter him. He didn’t even pick them off.
“Leave some for the rest of us,” joked Honey.
Tadashi turned red, gave Honey an apologetic smile.
“Leave him alone. Dealing with Callaghan can be nerve wracking enough to give him an appetite,” said Fred.
“You’re just saying that because he wants you to leave,” said Gogo.
“Whatever, man, he doesn’t get that I belong anywhere I go.” Fred took a sip of water. “Did he have anything new to say about your robot?” he asked.
Tadashi paused, slice halfway to his face when he realized Professor Callaghan hadn’t asked about Baymax.
It was inconsiderate that Aiello didn’t go to the library when he was waiting for her, incredibly rude when she avoided him during the few classes she attended, and infuriating that she didn’t show up to prepare for their meeting with Professor Patel. But not showing up to the meeting itself? That was unforgivable. Not for the first time, Tadashi wished he had a different project partner. Once again, he checked the gdoc’s revision history; when he ambushed her after finally seeing her in class (the first time this week), Aiello had said that she was working on it, but Tadashi didn’t see any progress. Professor Patel was not going to be happy when she arrived.
The door squeaked open. Tadashi immediately looked in its direction, praying that it was Aiello with her completed work and an apology, though Professor Patel’s smiling face and subtle sympathy for him would also be acceptable.
“Where were--” the words and hope died in his mouth when he realized neither Aiello nor Professor Patel were standing in the doorway. Instead, he was mildly surprised to see Professor Callaghan.
“Oh, Mr. Hamada. Good to see you’re here,” he said.
“Um, yeah, thanks,” said Tadashi. “I’m just waiting for my partner. I wanted to get some work done before our conference with Professor Patel,” Tadashi sighed, and checked his phone again. Aiello still hadn’t replied. Tadashi sent her another text: I’m in the main lab!. He added a few extra exclamation points to let off some steam
“Yes, that’s why I’m here, albeit a bit late” said Professor Callaghan, making a beeline for the front desk. “Professor Patel won’t be in today. She’s not feeling well. ”
“That stinks. I hope she feels better soon,” said Tadashi. He looked back at the door before focusing all his attention on Professor Callaghan.
Professor Callaghan smiled. “Please don’t spread this around, but I’m pretty sure she’s pleased to feel sick.”
“Huh?” said Tadashi. “Oh. Oh.”
“I’m happy for her. It’s something she’s wanted for a long time,” said Professor Callaghan. He checked his watch. “Let’s give Ms. Aiello another minute or two before starting.”
They gave Aiello five minutes, and she still didn’t show up. Tadashi sent her several frowny face emojis in the interm.
“Would you mind bringing the project closer? I would like to see it and the notes you took,” said Professor Callaghan. Tadashi was halfway to the lab table before Professor Callaghan said “Bring a chair with you.”
Professor Callaghan scooted his chair over to one side of the desk. “Come sit on this side with me,” he said.
It was going to be a tight squeeze, but Tadashi didn’t protest as he dragged his chair next to Professor Callaghan’s, tripping and almost upsetting a stack of journals in the process.
“Whoa, there,” said Professor Callaghan, grabbing the stack of journals to prevent them from landing on the project.
“Sorry,” Tadashi mumbled. He quickly sat down, before he could do any more damage.
“No problem. Now, Professor Patel didn’t leave any notes, so you’re going to have to do most of the talking here,” said Professor Callaghan.
Anger with Aiello and the novelty of Professor Callaghan’s undivided attention made Tadashi stumble over his words at first. With his tablet, he gave Professor Callaghan the best overview he could of Aiello’s truncated work before launching into an explanation of his responsibilities of the project. Professor Callaghan . When Professor Callaghan leaned in to check his work, Tadashi was uncomfortably aware of Professor Callaghan’s thigh pressing against his.
“I’m half-considering finishing it by myself,” said Tadashi.
Finally, there was only three minutes left of their conference time and Wasabi and his partner were waiting outside the door. “It says on the rubric that your grade partially depends on that of your partner’s, and vice versa,” said Professor Callaghan.
“The highest we can get on this project with the currently completed work is a barely passing grade,” said Tadashi bitterly.
“That’s a shame,” said Professor Callaghan. He put his hand on Tadashi’s knee. “I’m truly impressed with your work and hope you can reach Ms. Aiello before it’s too late.”
“I doubt it,” said Tadashi.
“Maybe Professor Patel will give you some leeway,” offered Professor Callaghan.
Tadashi laughed as if Professor Callaghan told a joke.
When he received his grade from a hoarse but cheerful Professor Patel, he was both relieved by and uncomfortable with the big red B+ on top of his paper.
Tadashi knew he wasn’t supposed to bring work materials into the student lounge, but it was the rare rule he felt comfortable breaking. It was well past midnight, and he was pretty sure he was the only person in the building. Besides, it wasn’t anything dangerous, just a stack of Hiro’s sweatshirts, Aunt Cass’s sewing basket, a tupperware of GPS chips he’d made himself, and the white vinyl that would eventually become Baymax’s new outside. The third test hadn’t gone well. Baymax’s latex covering overinflated and popped. Even Honey was impressed by how much noise it made.
He took Hiro’s oldest and rattiest sweatshirt, a blue one that previously belonged to him, and slit open the shoulder seam. The small sound of the seam-ripper was the only noise in the lounge. Even the air had shut off. Tadashi stopped to take off his sweater, laying it on top of the paper he mysteriously got a B+ on, even though it was against Professor Patel’s grading policy.
The GPS tracker was of Tadashi’s own design; it was a little wider than most of the GPS trackers on the market, but it was paper-thin, and most importantly, flexible. He could easily sew it into Hiro’s hoodies without him noticing any new weight. The stitching, however, might be a little difficult. He split the sleeve from its lining. Bits of thread now littered the student lounge’s floor. Tadashi made a mental note to clean it up when he was finished.
Tadashi snapped a small, just as flexible waterproof case over the tracker and put it into position where the sleeve would be baggiest on Hiro, making him less likely to notice. Luckily, he found thread that exactly matched the color of the sweatshirt. He pulled out Aunt Cass’s finest needle and got to work.
Well, he tried to. Aunt Cass taught him the basics of sewing when he was younger. Right after he and Hiro came to live with her, she would teach him to sew during Hiro’s nap time. They hadn’t gotten past the basic stitches, and he found that all the stitches Aunt Cass taught him were too big for his work. Hiro would definitely notice. He pulled them out and tried again.
When Tadashi heard footsteps, he launched himself across the couch in a desperate attempt to hide his rule breaking. The tupperware and sewing basket dug into his back, but he didn’t adjust them. Instead he reached for his backpack on the floor and took out his computer.
“I’m seeing a lot of you lately, Mr. Hamada,” observed Professor Callaghan. He was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans instead of his usual work clothes; he must not have planned to come back after he was done for the day.
“Uh. Yes, you are,” said Tadashi, heart pounding. Professor Callaghan arched his brow. Tadashi could feel his ears turning red.
“Doing some laundry?” asked Professor Callaghan, which confused Tadashi, until he saw Professor Callaghan pointedly eyeing the--stack of sweatshirts. Tadashi knew he forgot to hide something.
“Um….” Tadashi knew he was caught.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to report you,” said Professor Callaghan with an expression of mingled interest and confusion. “What else have you got?”
Tadashi reluctantly revealed the rest of his equipment. Professor Callaghan looked even more confused.
“It’s for my brother,” Tadashi explained.
Professor Callaghan moved the tupperware and sewing basket to sit down beside Tadashi.
“That doesn’t explain much,” he said.
“He’s been sneaking out at night,” said Tadashi. “I need, well….”
“You care about him and want to keep track of him,” said Professor Callaghan smoothly.
“Yes,” said Tadashi. He paused, waiting for Professor Callaghan to offer advice or scold him for tracking his brother. Squinting in the dim light, Professor Callaghan picked up a GPS chip. Then, he took out his phone; for one irrational second, he thought Professor Callaghan was going to call the disciplinary committee. Instead, a pinpoint of light shone from the phone as Professor Callaghan examined his chip.
“Very sophisticated,” he said, more to himself than Tadashi.
He turned to Tadashi and said in the same muted voice “You made this yourself, I presume?”
“Yes,” said Tadashi, finally feeling his heart starting to slow down.
“You’ve designed it to sew into his clothes permanently,” said Professor Callaghan. He flipped it over. “It seems very exposed, how will you--”
“I made a case for it,” said Tadashi, handing it to Professor Callaghan.
“This… this is beyond what I expected of you,” said Professor Callaghan. Tadashi couldn’t control his smile.
“It wasn’t too tough. I’m having way more problems with the actual sewing, as you can see.” he said, pointing at the partially-dissected sweatshirt.
Professor Callaghan nodded. Tadashi jumped, but leaned forward out of instinct when he felt Professor Callaghan’s arm wrap around his waist. With a quiet snort of laughter, Professor Callaghan pulled Tadashi closer to him, making Tadashi sink even more into the already worn cushions. “It’s easier to teach this way.”
He manipulated Tadashi’s hand into the proper position to hold a needle. “That was your first problem,” he said, breath tickling Tadashi’s ear. The hair on the back of Tadashi’s neck stood up. He tried to lean forward even more, to avoid Professor Callaghan’s arm on his back, but Professor Callaghan leaned forward with him. Professor Callaghan talked and molded Tadashi’s movements through a nearly-invisible stitch while Tadashi tried to relax. They stitched in near-silence until Tadashi couldn’t take it anymore.
“You asked Professor Patel to raise my grade,” he said bluntly, starting on the second side of the tracker.
“I never agreed with that policy of hers,” admitted Professor Callaghan, withdrawing his arm. “Good corner stitch,” he added.
Callaghan looked him directly in the eyes, and Tadashi almost wished they were back to the awkward cuddling position because he felt like Professor Callaghan was examining him.
“I felt that you shouldn’t be punished for your classmate’s absenteeism,” said Callaghan. “And I asked her to reconsider your joint grade right after we decided to put Aiello on academic probation.”
Tadashi knew Callaghan wasn’t supposed to tell him that.
“Thank you,” he said softly. Professor Callaghan’s eyes crinkled when he smiled.
“Finally!” Tadashi cried. He finished the last of Hiro’s improved sweatshirts. He was free, for the first time in what felt like forever.
Fred poked his head in Tadashi’s workroom. “You sound ready for a party, my friend,” he said.
“I think I am,” said Tadashi. He checked: project handed in, workroom cleaned, and Baymax wasn’t making that weird static noise anymore. Yup, definitely ready.
“Yo, so I got some libations for us in my bag,” said Fred way too loudly. Tadashi blanched.
“You can always tell me what you got on the way to… wait, whose house?”” asked Tadashi.
“Mine,” said Fred.
“And you’ll never guess what I scored from the chick who works at--” began Fred.
“I CAN GUESS,” said Tadashi quickly.
“Mr. Hamada, is there a problem?” asked Professor Callaghan, looking up from Gogo’s project.
“No, sir,” said Tadashi. Professor Callaghan’s forehead wrinkled.
“Well, then, if you wouldn’t mind stepping into your workroom with me for a minute,” said Professor Callaghan.
Fred cottoned on. “It’s grape juice! I’m talking about grape juice!”
Professor Callaghan was too polite to slam the door in his face, but it was a close call.
“I wasn’t going to go,” Tadashi started babbling the second the door closed.
“I didn’t hear anything you and Fred were saying to each other,” said Professor Callaghan.
Tadashi was confused “But--”
“I didn’t hear anything, and I don’t want to have to say otherwise if something bad happens. Please enjoy yourself safely.” His words unnerved Tadashi slightly.
Professor Callaghan adjusted his glasses. “I actually have something else to ask you.”
“Sure,” said Tadashi.
“I know you’re very busy,” said Professor Callaghan “and I don’t want to add to your burden of work, but I wouldn’t ask if I thought you couldn’t handle it.”
He put his hand on Tadashi’s shoulder. “ Would you like to start some graduate-level work with me?”
“Yes!” Tadashi said so quickly that his voice went up an octave and cracked. Professor Callaghan smiled fondly at him.
Tadashi cleared his throat, and said in a lower voice “What would that entail, Professor?”
“Well, you’re not allowed in grad level classes for another two semesters, so you would be working privately with me,” said Callaghan. “I have a lot of meetings coming up, so we wouldn’t start immediately.”
“Sounds good!” said Tadashi, struggling to control his grin.
Gogo waited until Tadashi finished his first “libation” of the evening to ask.
“So, what did Callaghan interrupt my project inspection to talk about?” she asked, pouring a second drink for herself.
“He, uh, wanted me to start doing some graduate work,” he mumbled. He didn’t know why it seemed embarrassing to tell them.
Wasabi flipped through the program handbook that he always kept in his bag.
“But you haven’t finished all the prerequisites,” he said. “Is he making a scheduling exception for you?”
“It’s off the books,” said Tadashi. He wasn’t sure whether the libations or the admission was making him redder.
There was a weird pause in the conversation. He could feel all their eyes on him, and no one was smiling. Gogo, strangely, looked hurt.
“Well, congratulations!” Honey Lemon recovered first. She poured herself and Wasabi another drink. “Let’s have a toast!”
“To Tadashi!” she said. Tadashi didn’t have time to refill himself one; he clinked his empty red cup against all his friends’ full ones, and thought that their smiles didn’t look sincere.
True to his word, Tadashi didn’t see Professor Callaghan outside regular classes for another two weeks. Even though he was eager to get started on the new work, he didn’t mind the silence; it allowed the weird tension with his friends to retreat into the background. They didn’t treat him any differently to his face, but he noticed the conversations that changed course or stopped entirely when he entered the group workroom and lingering glances whenever Professor Callaghan called on him to answer a question.
Tadashi tried his best not to distance himself, but circumstances conspired against him. A truly enormous amount of schoolwork, jobs and differing class schedules kept them from seeing each other, except during lab and a class or two in common. He glanced out the tiny window in his lab door, debating whether to head home. He was halfway to the door when he saw that the lab wasn’t deserted. Gogo was still there, crossing her arms as Professor Callaghan examined her project even though the weekly inspection was still two days off. Despite himself, Tadashi felt curious. He peeked through the window, glad Gogo’s back was to him. Somehow, he didn’t think his presence would go over well.
“--rude of me--” he heard through the door
He couldn’t make out the words after that, but the apologetic tone of Professor Callaghan voice was unmistakeable.
Professor Callaghan smiled relievedly and patted Gogo on the shoulder. Tadashi could only see a sliver of Gogo’s face, but that was all he needed to see that she appreciated his apology. Her arms were still crossed, though, and her arched eyebrow suggested she was still wary.
She said something that sounded like “thank you” and left.
Cautiously, Tadashi opened the door.
Professor Callaghan waited until he heard the front doors slam to say “Come down to my office Friday night to tell me how those trackers are doing.”
If it weren’t for Professor Callaghan’s request, Tadashi would have called in sick. He was aching all over, and the highest dose of motrin he could safely take only dulled it a little. By the time he got to Professor Callaghan’s office, Tadashi was tottering like a client he hoped Baymax would eventually help.
Professor Callaghan, absorbed in grading, didn’t look up until Tadashi lowered himself gingerly into the chair set up next to him.
“What happened?” asked Professor Callaghan. He quickly turned over the papers he was grading before giving Tadashi his undivided attention.
“My brother, that’s what happened,” moaned Tadashi. “The bonehead’s hustling illegal robot fights!”
Professor Callaghan’s expression was one of mingled confusion and concern
“Is that how you got injured?” asked Professor Callaghan. “They realized he tricked them?”
Tadashi nodded. “I was so lucky I got there when I did. Another minute and…” Tadashi shuddered, unwilling to complete either the sentence or the thought.
Professor Callaghan wheeled his chair closer to Tadashi’s. He peered into Tadashi’s face, lips pursed in concentration.
“I patched him up when we got home,” continued Tadashi. “He’s okay, only got a little roughed up.”
“What about you?” asked Professor Callaghan. He put his hand on Tadashi’s shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Tadashi said quickly.
“Oh, good. Did you go to the student health clinic, or do you have a doctor off-campus?” Professor Callaghan.
“Uh….” said Tadashi. He rubbed the back of his neck
“I see,” said Professor Callaghan knowingly.
“I’m fine,” protested Tadashi.
Professor Callaghan crossed his arms and looked at Tadashi with a quirked eyebrow. “If you’re fine, raise your arms over your head.”
“...okay, you win,” said Tadashi. “I got pretty beat up.”
“Promise me you’ll go to the clinic soon,” sighed Professor Callaghan.
“But, for the time being, use this.” He got a tube of bruise cream out of his desk drawer. He made a motion as if to toss it to Tadashi, but thought better of it, walking back to the work table and placing it in Tadashi’s hand.
“Thank you,” he said uncapping it and spreading a small amount on his arms. He felt the bruised spots go cool and tingly almost immediately.
“Did they get you in the back?” Professor Callaghan asked.
“Only a kick or two,” said Tadashi. He squeezed more bruise cream in his hand, but his stiff arms and shoulders protested when he tried to make them twist around to his back.
“Keep your hands cupped like that,” said Professor Callaghan. Tadashi, without another choice, complied.
Tadashi tensed when he felt Professor Callaghan hands at the hem of his t-shirt.
“I--,” Tadashi began, but whatever thought he had died when Professor Callaghan gently lifted his shirt up to expose his back. Tadashi repressed a shiver at the sudden blast of cold air.
“Yeah, these don’t look too bad,” Professor Callaghan murmured. “‘S no worse than you get in basic training.” With one hand that felt like an island of warmth on Tadashi’s cold body, he kept the back of his shirt up.
“You really don’t have to,” said Tadashi.
Professor Callaghan used two fingers to scrape some of the cream out of Tadashi’s palm, and, um. Tadashi had no idea he was sensitive there.
“You didn’t seem up to doing it yourself,” Professor Callaghan countered. He put a fingertip to the biggest bruise, between Tadashi’s shoulder blades. Tadashi hissed in pain.
“I’ll go quickly” Professor Callaghan promised. But it felt positively unhurried, at least to Tadashi. Professor Callaghan was gentle but thorough. Like his teaching, Tadashi thought. He put a dollop of cream on the center of each of Tadashi’s bruises before spreading it out with long, but light strokes that left Tadashi with goosebumps.
He thought longingly of the spare sweater in his lab.
“All done there,” said Professor Callaghan.
“Okay, other side.”
“What?!” yelped Tadashi. He reflexively hugged himself.
I can do that myself,” he said, his voice embarrassingly loud in the quiet office.
Professor Callaghan’s answering look was skeptical enough to made Tadashi feel unreasonable.
“You were beaten up and you haven’t seen a doctor yet.” He said it blandly, but the worry behind his words was evident.
“I let Baymax scan me,” Tadashi said weakly.
“Its programming isn’t complete yet.”
“Actually, I finished it right after inspection,” said Tadashi.
Professor Callaghan rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
“And what did Baymax have to say about your injuries?” he asked, tone curious instead of dismissive.
Cheeks burning, Tadashi admitted “The scanning mechanism caught the bruises, but thought it was hemophilia. And crashed.”
“You’ll get the bugs fixed.” Professor Callaghan spared him a smile before his face grew serious once more. “I’m not a medical professional, but I have enough training to tell if someone’s hurt enough to need a doctor.”
Just as gently as before, he lifted the front of Tadashi’s shirt. Tadashi wanted to shield himself with his arms again, but kept them obediently pinned to his sides. Professor Callaghan whistled softly when he saw the bruises marring his chest and abdomen.
“Holy shit, they really got you,” he said.
“Yeah,” Tadashi squeaked out. He felt as scrutinized as the papers Professor Callaghan was grading when he walked in.
“Lean back,” said Professor Callaghan. He groped at the side of Tadashi’s chair for the switch.
“You really don’t--,” Tadashi repeated.
“I really do,” said Professor Callaghan. “Lift your arms, just a little,” he requested.
When Tadashi’s eyes narrowed in confusion, Professor Callaghan clarified, “so you can keep your shirt up.”
“Oh.” Tadashi tucked his rucked-up shirt under his arms.
Professor Callaghan started on the largest bruise, a shoe-shaped monstrosity on his stomach.
“Excuse me if this isn’t my place, Mr. Hamada, but what did your….” Professor Callaghan looked up.
“I know you don’t live with....,” he started again, gesturing with one white-flecked hand.
“My brother and I live with my aunt,” Tadashi said.
“Oh. Sorry, I forgot,” said Professor Callaghan, looking down at Tadashi’s torso again. He spread the cream upward, almost but not quite at Tadashi’s sternum.
“What did she think of your brother’s behavior?” Professor Callaghan asked.
“She, uh, doesn’t know yet.” Professor Callaghan finished with the bruise before looking up.
“I would tell her if I were you,” he said finally.
“I don’t want to worry her,” said Tadashi.
Professor Callaghan sighed and moved on to the bruise straddling Tadashi’s collarbone and shoulder.
“I understand you feel you need to keep him out of trouble, but this is out of your hands.” His breath tickled Tadashi’s ear. Tadashi’s skin seemed to become more sensitive to compensate for the numbness currently covering half his body. He was acutely aware of Professor Callaghan’s fingertips on his collarbone, the slight scrape of his nails, the heat radiating from him when he was this close to Tadashi.
Does he have a history of criminal behavior?” asked Professor Callaghan.
It took a few seconds for Tadashi to answer. “Hiro’s never really liked rules, but this isn’t normal for him. ”
“Then it should be nipped in the bud before it has serious consequences for him--or you.” Before Tadashi could reply, Professor Callaghan turned his attention to the last big bruise, only half-visible over Tadashi’s waistband.
Professor Callaghan tugged at Tadashi’s waistband with some difficulty, until he exposed the full bruise. Tadashi’s face contorted in discomfort.
“Professor--” he said urgently.
Professor Callaghan shushed him. Tadashi wanted to protest more as Professor Callaghan spread the cream down the bruise, but the words wouldn’t come.
The heel of Professor Callaghan’s hand brushed against the base of Tadashi’s cock. Tadashi startled, belatedly realizing he was hard. Not all the way, thank god, but he was getting there. He snapped his thighs together in a last-ditch attempt to hide it.
Professor Callaghan laughed softly. “It happens. Don’t be embarrassed.”
No part of Tadashi’s body respected his wishes. He felt his flush grow hotly from his cheeks to his ears and neck. His cock, much to his horror, didn’t deflate at the rush of mortification. He forced himself to remain stock-still even as Professor Callaghan gently held him in place. It felt like an eternity.
“Finished,” he finally announced.
Tadashi covered himself hastily.
“Now, let’s get to work,” said Professor Callaghan, and handed Tadashi a journal out of the stack on the table.
“Can you come in before your first class tomorrow?” asked Professor Callaghan.
“Sure,” said Tadashi, even though he was up to two all-nighters this week and he really needed the sleep. He hoped Hiro didn’t have any more illegal plans tonight.
Hiro didn’t go out to botfight, but he also wasn’t speaking to Tadashi, not even to brag about all the retro games he had time to play now that he’d graduated. Tadashi finished his work so quickly he double-checked it to make sure he didn’t miss any huge mistakes and fell asleep before midnight.
The sun hadn’t fully risen by the time Tadashi reached SFIT.
“How are you?” asked Professor Callaghan after they had finished going through the advanced microprocessing lesson.
“Tired,” said Tadashi truthfully.
“I meant your bruises,” said Professor Callaghan.
Physical, or emotional? Tadashi thought. “They’re healing fine,” he said instead, but it must have come out wrong because Professor Callaghan looked more concerned at his reply.
Professor Callaghan hmmmed and steepled his hands together. He looked pointedly at Tadashi to continue.
“My brother’s not speaking to me.” The words tumbled out of Tadashi’s mouth.
Professor Callaghan closed his laptop and moved it to the coffee table.
“He’ll calm down in a few days,” said Professor Callaghan. “He’s probably mad that you’re right on top of feeling guilty about your injuries.”
“I know, but I’m worried he’ll do something stupid that I can’t save him from.” Tadashi was surprised to hear the tears in his voice. He didn’t feel any in his eyes. Professor Callaghan scooted closer to Tadashi and put a paternal hand on his shoulder.
You’re such a good kid,” he said. “but you’re putting too much responsibility on yourself.”
“I’m not,” said Tadashi automatically. “I should’ve done more.”
Professor Callaghan was looking at him oddly. His eyes looked sad, but the corners of his mouth were slightly upturned. “I don’t think you see how selfless you are,” he said.
“I’m not, I just--” Tadashi was cut off by Professor Callaghan’s finger gently pressing against his lips.
“You need to learn how to take a compliment.”
Tadashi parted his lips to say something, but for some reason, the drag of Professor Callaghan’s slight pen callus across his lips made him reconsider. He closed his mouth.
“I see you do it all the time. You always try to solve your own problems before involving other people. Your intelligence and devotion make you a brilliant robotics engineer, and, I’m sure, a wonderful brother, but--”
Tadashi turned bright red.
“You need more than the satisfaction of caring for everyone around you and being left with nothing but their assumptions that you can do everything by yourself.”
Professor Callaghan finally took his finger off Tadashi’s lips. Tadashi squirmed on the couch, because he rarely let himself have thoughts like that. He never felt taken advantage of or used. So what if he hated asking for help?
“Tadashi, you deserve to have someone guide you for a change.”
Tadashi wasn’t sure whether he was more taken aback by Professor Callaghan’s use of his first name or continued ingress into Tadashi’s personal space. He was practically on the same couch cushion as Tadashi, pressed up against him like when he helped Tadashi sew the GPS into his brother’s sweatshirt, but it felt different somehow. His arm wrapped around Tadashi’s shoulder, and even though Tadashi was still flustered from their conversation he leaned forward to facilitate the awkward hug he assumed Professor Callaghan was initiating. Tadashi realized he was wrong a split second before Professor Callaghan kissed him just long enough to leave an impression of warmth and softness on his lips before withdrawing.
“Um,” said Tadashi.
Callaghan leaned forward again before Tadashi could say anything. With a big hand curled under Tadashi’s chin, Callaghan pressed their mouths together again. He tilted his head differently, trying to coax a reaction out of Tadashi. Tadashi was still frozen in shock. When he felt Callaghan’s tongue trying to worm its way between his lips, the spell was broken.
Tadashi broke the kiss.
“I’m not interested.” It came out soft, slightly breathless. His lips still tingled from the kiss.
Callaghan gave Tadashi the slightly disbelieving look he usually reserved for students who asked for more than one extension on a homework assignment.
“You practically let me take your shirt off last week, ” said Callaghan slowly.
“You started it,” retorted Tadashi, which was true, but the words still felt childish in his mouth. It was what Hiro said to him whenever they had a stupid argument about something like which one of them Mochi liked better.
He made to stand up, but Callaghan pulled him back down. Tadashi slouched away from him, into the arm of the couch. He wanted to put his hat on, but it across the room, on top of his backpack.
“Look at me,” said Callaghan. He wasn’t smiling. Tadashi only obeyed because he didn’t want Callaghan’s hand under his chin again.
“You need someone who truly appreciates you. Someone who won’t ignore your advice, get jealous, or have unrealistic expectations. This will be good for you.”
“It’s funny how ‘what’s good for me’ lines up so well with what you want from me,” Tadashi said.
Callaghan smiled guiltily. “It’s a very happy coincidence,” he said ingratiatingly.
Tadashi rolled his eyes.
“I’m not selfish,” Callaghan protested.
“Well, not entirely,” he amended at Tadashi’s dark look. “I’ll make sure you enjoy it too.”
Tadashi deliberately avoided thinking about what that meant.
Callaghan looked at his watch. “I know you have a class in ten minutes, and I have a lot of papers to grade. Think it over for me, okay?”
Tadashi stood up as quickly as he could. To his surprise, Callaghan followed him.
He lowered his mouth to Tadashi’s again. Tadashi deliberately moved his head, so Callaghan ended up catching the corner of Tadashi’s jaw instead. Tadashi tried to move away, but Callaghan held him there, sucking almost hard enough to leave a mark on Tadashi’s skin that was still a little raw from his morning shave.
Tadashi was out the door before Callaghan could say anything else.
Attending morning classes was a relief. Tadashi would’ve been surprised by how easy it was to concentrate if he didn’t feel numb. Instead, he listened intently first to programming, then circuitry lessons that he usually found too easy to be interesting. Every once in a while, he would absentmindedly touch a finger to his lips and the sensory memory would come flooding back to him, but he cut the thought off and got back to work.
Although he wanted to go home, he spent his lunch break in the student lounge. Not the one where Callaghan helped him sew, the small one on the third floor that was unofficially for graduate students only. It tended to be quieter, and Tadashi needed that right now. Tadashi picked at his salad and tried to feel something besides the mellowness his brain was forcing on him.
Maybe doing something would kick him out of his daze. He always preferred taking action over waiting for someone else’s directions. First, he did the circuitry assignment due next week, but it didn’t take him long. Next he raided the GA’s office for robotic engineering pamphlets to stick in Hiro’s desk. She wouldn’t mind; she was always begging undergrads like him to give them away. If nothing else, it would annoy Hiro enough to make a snippy remark at him, and right now Tadashi even missed that.
Reporting Sexual Harassment, said a poster taped to the inside of her door. Tadashi stopped in his tracks. Listed were several ways to make a report, both under his own name and anonymously. At the bottom of the poster was a QR code. After a brief debate with himself over whether to go through with it (Callaghan only propositioned him once, did he need more evidence to qualify?), he decided it was better to report a small problem then let it turn into a big one. He swiped his phone over the code. No response. He tried again. No response. Classes were resuming in a few minutes, so he’d have to be quick. He tried a third time.Error 608, QR code not recognized, said his phone. Tadashi sighed, and put his phone away. Oh well. It was worth a shot.
He ended up reporting anonymously on his laptop. He looked away as he pressed send.
The dojo was closed that night, so Tadashi went for a long run after school was over and he finished his work on Baymax. He ran until his lungs burned and his eyes watered in the night air. Tadashi was ashamed by his relief when he saw that all the lights in the house were off. After a quick shower, Tadashi fell into bed with wobbly legs and sore knees.
Under the cover of darkness, the numbness that settled over Tadashi finally started to budge. Tadashi swallowed around the lump in his throat. He was really enjoying the graduate-level work and--Tadashi’s eyes felt achy, like tears were on the way when he admitted it to himself-- the attention before Callaghan ruined it. The rapport Tadashi had built up with him during his time at SFIT--his dryly witty lectures, the empathetic guidance, even the knowledge that Callaghan had also lost someone close to him before their time, had been compressed from files to subfiles to fit under the macro file that was his current behavior.
Tadashi let his hand rest on his stomach, idly stroking the line of hair below his navel. It started off as a random touch, the way he would run his fingers through his hair when he was stressed. Unthinkingly, he pushed the tips of his fingers under his waistband just enough to feel where the hair grew thicker and coarser. He startled when he realized anew that Callaghan might have thought about doing this to him. His stomach flipped with something not quite nausea, but not any other sensation Tadashi could name. Callaghan kissed him. Callaghan wanted him.
A soft mrrp was Mochi’s only warning before jumping on his bed. Tadashi hurriedly withdrew his hand from his boxers.
He fell asleep wondering what else Callaghan thought about doing to him.
His heart skipped a beat when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Tadashi,” Callaghan whispered in his ear.
“Leave me alone,” said Tadashi.
“No,” said Callaghan.
“Leave me alone,” said Tadashi, a little louder, hoping to draw attention.
Professor Callaghan didn’t clamp his hand over Tadashi’s mouth. Instead, he led Tadashi to the the deserted hallway outside his office, perhaps assuming that Tadashi would refuse to go further in than that.
“You almost got me in a lot of trouble,” said Callaghan. He looked more sad than angry.
“I think you mean your behavior almost got you in trouble,” said Tadashi. He didn’t care how rude he sounded.
Callaghan looked genuinely surprised.
“Touché,” he said.
Wait, ‘almost?’ thought Tadashi.
“That lab partner of yours finally came in handy,” said Callaghan. “They have a grudge against me for putting them on academic probation. It wasn’t a hard sell to paint your complaint as a retaliatory report.”
Tadashi’s face crumbled.
Callaghan unlocked his office. “Come inside.”
Tadashi didn’t move.
“Come on, I’m going to show you some of my declassified blueprints from my military work.” He tugged Tadashi by the arm, and Tadashi went along with him. That did sound interesting….
There were no blueprints on the meeting table.
“Are they on your computer?” asked Tadashi.
“I don’t know about you--”
Bullshit. Callaghan made his schedule.
“--but I just finished with my day. I thought we could relax a little first.”
Tadashi channeled Hiro’s expression from whenever a school bully decided to pick on him. He let his eyes grow wide and the corners of his mouth droop. Tadashi never had to do this; he was always the one who saved the day when Hiro’s lower lip trembled. He wasn’t the vulnerable one, until now.
Callaghan mock-frowned back at Tadashi.
“Don’t make me feel like the bad guy,” he said, still blocking Tadashi’s path. “I just want to help you.” The horrible thing was, Tadashi believed he did. It took no conscious thought for Tadashi to turn his expression from scared to angry.
Callaghan cocked his head at him. “That’s no better.”
“Relax,” he said in the same voice he used for students operating dangerous machinery for the first time. He untucked Tadashi’s shirt and slid his hand up, making contact with Tadashi’s bare skin. Tadashi flinched.
“Sorry, are my hands cold?” asked Callaghan with a small smile. He knew his hands were as warm as ever.
“No,” said Tadashi grudgingly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to take it off,” Callaghan said as his hands explored Tadashi’s sides and stomach. Tadashi stubbornly glared at him. He ignored the beginning stirrings of arousal. It was just the anxiety coursing through him. The hormones involved were similar enough to confuse his brain. Callaghan stroked the small line of hair going down his stomach, and for a second, Tadashi remembered his own touch there last night. But then, Callaghan slid his hands up Tadashi’s body.
“You’re not relaxing,” Callaghan said.
“I wonder why,” Tadashi said drily.
“You know, there are people who wish I would give them my undivided attention,” said Callaghan, spreading his fingers as he moved up to Tadashi’s chest.
“Why don’t you, then?” asked Tadashi, involuntarily twitching from Callaghan’s finger narrowly avoiding a nipple. Callaghan noticed.
He rolled Tadashi’s nipple in slow circles with his thumb. “I prefer you,” he said simply. Tadashi’s breath hitched. The intensity of the sensation surprised him.
Tadashi returned to his carefully neutral face. He couldn’t let Callaghan know that he was affected.
Callaghan smiled indulgently. “It’s okay,” he said.
He tweaked Tadashi’s other nipple. Tadashi bit the inside of his cheek to keep from making a sound.
Callaghan cupped the back of Tadashi’s head with his free hand. For a second, Tadashi thought he was going to kiss him again. Instead, he gently directed Tadashi’s head to the crook between his neck and shoulder.
He drew a finger down the back of Tadashi’s neck. “I’d love to see your face as you come for me, but you seem too self-conscious for that,” Callaghan muttered in his ear. “Right now, anyway.” A shudder coursed through Tadashi. He flailed, trying to pull away.
Callaghan held him in place, hand still resting heavily on the back of Tadashi’s neck. His other arm was around Tadashi’s back. He was pinned. Callaghan let him shift a little, to avoid getting an eyeful of his starched collar. Tadashi took several deep breaths, the scent of starch and something woodsy filling his nostrils.
“Good?” asked Callaghan.
“Mmph,” came Tadashi’s muffled answer. Actually, it was slightly easier on him to not look into those placid blue eyes, but he would never admit that.
Callaghan didn’t move for what felt like several minutes, but Tadashi knew probably wasn’t more than thirty seconds. The rough fabric of his sweater vest scraped against Tadashi’s cheek like stubble. A chill wafted across the back of his neck when Callaghan finally removed his hand.
Tadashi inhaled sharply when Callaghan slipped his hand between their bodies and cupped his cock. It was torture to stand still. He wanted to thrust into Callaghan’s hand, rock onto the balls of his feet, do something besides lock his knees and be glad Callaghan didn’t see how embarrassingly turned on he was.
Tadashi overbalanced. Involuntarily, his hands found Callaghan’s hips and he stepped forward to steady himself. Callaghan’s hand stilled on his cock. For a second, Tadashi wondered if he hurt him. Then, he felt something hot and hard against the top of his thigh. Oh, Tadashi realized distantly he likes it. He felt more than heard Callaghan’s grunt as he tried to move away.
“Keep it there,” said Callaghan. His voice was rough and low. Tadashi didn’t move his leg, though he did entertain a fantasy of kneeing Callaghan and running. He lifted his knee, and Callaghan inhaled heavily. He didn’t realize they were this close in height. Callaghan always seemed to tower over him.
Callaghan unzipped Tadashi’s pants and gently palmed his cock over his underwear. Tadashi was almost queasy at the sudden rush of pleasure.
“Oh my God,” Tadashi panted. He rubbed his cheek against Callaghan’s sweater vest.
“If you move your pants a bit, I can make it even better,” said Callaghan as he ran a finger against the waistband of Tadashi’s underwear. Tadashi’s first thought was that, yes, he’d like that very much. But he couldn’t forget that no matter how good it felt, he still didn’t ask for it. He didn’t want to be there.
Tadashi shook his head into Callaghan’s shoulder.
“Suit yourself,” Callaghan said, and bent to nibble on Tadashi’s earlobe.
“Ah!” Tadashi cried involuntarily. Callaghan resumed his attention to Tadashi’s cock. He stroked Tadashi way too slowly, stopping every so often to give it a squeeze. Tadashi whimpered whenever that happened. He thrust forward the first time Callaghan stroked the fabric over the sensitive head of his cock. Callaghan became more insistent after that, stroking Tadashi more firmly and rubbing himself off against Tadashi’s thigh. Tadashi’s mind became more and more clouded with pleasure and guilt, trying to stop himself from grinding himself into Callaghan’s hand only to forget when Callaghan changed his angle or lightly pinched the tip of his cock through his underwear.
Tadashi’s orgasm was a drawn-out spreading of warmth instead of a sharp spike of pleasure. It left him panting and clutching Callaghan, wondering when it would ever stop, as Callaghan stroked him through it. A few moments later, Tadashi felt a rumble in Callaghan’s throat and a spurt of wet warmth against his thigh.
The blueprints were very interesting.