She steeled her hands to receive what he threw her way. The card key whizzed through the air in a split second of grace, only to falter before clattering against the floor by her feet. Leiko let her readied arms sink back to her sides as she stared at the card on the lab floor in bitter silence.
"C'mon," Fred taunted. "You didn't catch."
She glared up at him, bags hanging from her eyes.
"You didn't throw," she retorted, her voice ragged with exhaustion.
"I knew you were gonna say that," Fred jeered, winking and pointing toward her.
"Whatever, Fred," she sighed, bending down to retrieve the item she'd requested. Her legs burned, but in a bad way. It had been quite the day – she couldn't even remember the last time she'd sat down. Hours ago, she was willing to venture. As she stood back up, she twitched from the pain in her left thigh, which had been bruised earlier that day.
After a moment's suspicion, Fred posed, "Still mad about the magnet thing, huh?"
"Of course not," Leiko muttered, the wrath she'd previously unloaded upon the fool all but waned away at such a late hour. "Accidents happen," she added in that dry way she figured he would expect.
"True, that is science, n' stuff," Fred stated with a stoic, sage-like tone about him. "Some of the greatest discoveries? Accidents."
Leiko wanted to come back with some witty remark about pissing his pants or something, but her heart wasn't in it. She felt a shiver come over her – the air conditioning was turned off by now, and she was getting cold. She grabbed her black leather jacket from its spot on the table and draped it on.
"Sandwiches?" Fred posed. "Accident. Electricity: accident!"
"My fist into your face." Leiko zipped up her jacket. "Accident."
"Haha, now there's the GoGo I know. For a sec there, I thought you were gonna make a joke about me wetting m-"
"You were leaving?" she cut him off, shuffling her hands into her pockets.
"I was," said Fred, his eyelids lowering, his lips curling upward. "But then we started having witty teammate banter."
"This is not banter," Leiko coldly insisted, pulling a piece of gum from the near-empty pack in her jacket pocket. As she unwrapped it, Fred spoke.
"C'mon. You love these moments we have, right? Where I give you a hard time, n' you give me a harder time, and-""Do not-" Leiko pointed her stick of gum at him threateningly. "-use the words 'hard' and 'harder' in the same sentence. Ever again.""Ah! Innuendos! I wasn't even thinking that. You're good at this. See? These moments inbetween the panels, inbetween the pages? These are the moments that make us a team instead of just a bunch of…eclectic nerd superheroes in the same headquarters. Ya feel me?"
Leiko's brows bent down in confusion as she tossed her gum into her mouth. After a couple of chews, she demanded in a doubtful mumble, "I do not and will never...feel you. And who taught you the word 'eclectic?'"
"You forget, M'Lady, that I-""I am not your lady.""You forget, Someone-Else's-Lady, I am a connoisseur of the art of literature," Fred boasted, opening up his messenger bag toward her to display the week's assortment of comic books he was working his way through.
Leiko chewed her gum, mouth open, with a direly skeptical stare. She blew a small bubble and made a point to pop it loudly between her teeth.
"...Yea. A regular Voltaire," Leiko retorted with all due sarcasm.
"Ooo, haven't heard of that one yet," Fred spit without skipping a beat. "Is he new? What's his superpower? Volt-Air...Sounds like...electricity? And wind? Does he create storms?"
Leiko sharply corrected, "Not a superhero, Fred."
"That's your charm, GoGo – you bring us on the level, keep us down to earth, ya know?"
Leiko just sighed in exasperation at him, replying with the chewing of her gum. She should've known better: Fred's 'superhero weakness' was the cold shoulder. She ignored him as he rambled on a bit more. Eyeballing her desk aimlessly, she desperately hoped he would leave soon so she could focus on her work. This prototype was already past deadline, and she couldn't afford a C in this class. If she didn't keep that GPA high enough, she might have to...-
"Every good superhero team needs what you bring to the table, GoGo – the silent, practical one who's always, like, looking at things through reality-colored glasses. You don't say much, but that's because–" And there he went, off into that melodramatic, rushed nonsense of his. "–deep inside, you're a tortured soul, hardened by your dark and brooding backstory, struggling to find redemption–" The more he spoke, the grittier Leiko's expression got. "–eager to prove yourself in a man's world of science, uncertain of what to say in the face of your own newfound heroism, caught between conflicting needs to be independent but also foster kinship with your peers, so when you do speak up, it comes from a place of common sense that really opens our eyes up to the realness of our-""Wow, you're so fucking astute, Fred," Leiko burst out in a ragged growl. "Fantastic."
Leiko's chest was tight, a breath held within it as she glared at her friend with fierce, impatient eyes. Her teeth were clenched, her shoulders tense, her fists in her jacket pockets, and her eyes bloodshot with bags hanging beneath. She did not appreciate this whack-job trying to psycho-analyze her through fucking...comic book tropes.
After gaping with open lips and wide eyes for a second, Fred watched Leiko realize she'd just had a bit of an outburst. Her frustration withered, flickering into remorse for just a moment before devolved back to her traditionally stoic look. She planted her palms against her workspace, taking a deep, calming breath as she leaned over disorganized tools.
"Whoa," Fred grunted through the silence, as if impressed. "Yea, like, that kind of stuff is exactly what I'm talking about. Might wanna knock the language down a notch, though – Kid Genius is still in the building." GoGo's clenched jaw slid slightly, her drowsy glare refocusing on Fred. "But seriously, you are really good at that. Like, I can feel your dark past just oozing out of your face right now."
Leiko's hands fidgeted at the air, clawing at nothing in a second of bridled frustration, inches from wringing Fred up by his stupid Hawaiian shirt. Fred just smiled in awe at her disgruntled face, and she acknowledged that he wasn't worth the trouble – either he was just being a dick and messing with her, or he was totally clueless. Neither warranted her getting arrested for murder. Running her hand through her shaggy hair, she took another deep breath to calm herself.
"Nothing?" Fred remarked, as if disappointed by her regaining her cool. Staring down aimlessly at her strewn about tools, Leiko glared at him with a raised brow. He explained, "I was totally tryin' to set you up to make some kind of insult about stuff oozing outta my face."
Leiko changed topics. She grabbed the card key from the table and wriggled it up in the air between two fingers.
"Where should I put this when I'm done?"
"Just hang onto it," Fred called back, heading for the mini fridge in his allotted corner of the 'nerd lab,' right next to his purple armchair. "I'll pick it up tomorrow."
"You're gonna be here tomorrow?" Leiko checked. She would much rather not be obligated to see him again the next day if she could help it. She could only handle Fred in small doses, and today had already filled her quota for the next week. "
"You bet I'll be here. Honey Lemon's gonna be helpin' me with that mod on the Dragon."
Leiko's lips hung open in recollection – Fred's weird little dragon suit seemed to run out of fire pretty quickly. Honey Lemon had offered to help him with the chemical compounds to try and figure out a more efficient fuel source. They were on day three of that process – day two had been sidetracked when Wasabi had insisted on altering the fire jet mechanism to spit a more precise stream of flames. Because that would be 'safer.' Yea. Clearly, that was the key to making Fred's abomination of a 'suit' more safe.
Fred emerged from the mini fridge with a green bottle in tow. Swinging by Wasabi's ornate table of tools, he grabbed one – seemingly at random – and cracked the cap off his bottle with it. The cap clattered against the floor, where he let it. Tenderly placing the tool back in its specifically marked resting spot, he took a swig of his drink.
Nodding to himself with his bottle in hand, he approached GoGo's workbench.
With a relaxed and jovial tone, he stated, "The fuel makes the fire." Another gulp of his drink, then a soft belch. Charming. "Am I right?"
She made to reply with some dryly sarcastic quip, but her brain was empty. At a loss. She tried to manage even a simple and demeaning 'Ah' or an 'Uh-huh' but nothing escaped her lips. Her eyelids just sagged a bit, and she yawned slightly before letting her eyes close for a second.
"Speaking of," Fred said, giving her a split-second heart attack as he patted her on the back. "You look like you need a little more 'go' in your GoGo." He poked his finger at her shoulder and she glared at him like a disgruntled car. Jeez, when had he gotten right next to her? She must've nodded off again.
"I'm fine," Leiko mumbled, disinterested in Fred's attempt at concern and shrugging him away.
"Ya sure?" Fred double-checked. "'Cuz I just, like, touched you, and you didn't even hit me. You must be in a pretty bad mood." She sighed loudly at him.
"How did you guess?"
"Yea, you are...totally tense. Hey, ya know, if you want some-" He wiggled his bottle left and right. "-ya know, to relax, there's more over there."
Leiko's eyes narrowed at the offer. Fred knew she was trying to stay sober. Or maybe he'd forgotten? Or maybe he was just a moron. She figured she'd go with the latter. And what the hell? Why was he drinking in the first place? Argh. Beer was doing him more good than the stuff he'd been on before, though, so she wasn't going to hassle him over it.
"Nope," she replied brusquely to his offer, turning her attention to her workbench. "Gotta stay focused. Burning both ends of the candle tonight..." She yawned again.
"Uh, pretty sure ya won't need any candles," Fred dubiously remarked. Heading for the door, he waggled his bottle toward the ceiling. "They keep the power on all night." He took another sip.
Leiko was entirely too sleep-deprived to even dignify his ignorance with a correction.
"Good," she said instead. "Probably gonna need all night to finish this."
"In that case...-" Fred pointed lazily toward the chemistry section. "-...the coffee maker's still on. Half a pot left in there. Still fresh."
Leiko surveyed her chem corner's countertop, noting the dark liquid residing in the glass pot from across the way. The light on the machine was green, so it was being kept warm. Leiko wondered why the idiot would go straight from a coffee to a beer, but...whatever. There was coffee left over, either way.
"Yea," she replied, shrugging at Fred. "All right." He nodded back with a mellow smile, and she narrowed her eyes at him. That was as close to a 'thank you' as he was going to said. Leiko broke the sound of her gum chewing by saying, "You were...leaving?"
"I was," Fred remarked, nodding some more. He took another sip of his beer, gawking at her.
Awkward silence. Eye contact avoided.
Leiko popped another gum bubble.
"Bye," Leiko grunted suddenly, putting her eyes back on her work, despite having no focus on what she was actually doing.
Fred waved his hand off and made his way out the door. Leiko chewed at her lip as her brain scrambled to recollect where she was with her prototype. Wait, he wasn't about to go drive, was he? Oh. No, nah. This was Fred. He was just going to have his butler swing by and get him. Ugh. Freaking idiot, he was never gonna...-
Agh. Damn. She had started to nod off again.
Rubbing at her tired eyes led to her hand scraping itself across her forehead, then a yawn, then a scratch of her posterior, then a sigh. She scanned her work space, surveying her materials. She'd lost her focus, her drive. Everything had screeched to a stop. Where had she left off? Why the interruption?
Right. The card key. So she could get to their supply room. So she get those parts she needed.
Tucking the key in her back pocket, Leiko made her way out of the lab and into the desolate hallway. She went to the elevator at the end of the hall, only to be surprised that it was in use, heading toward her floor from above. She leaned against the wall with folded arms as she waited, sucking the flavor out of her gum with impatience. She was a bit confused when a short little boy with messy hair emerged.
"Hiro?" she mumbled at him, pushing up off the wall and standing upright.
"Have you seen Baymax?" Hiro solemnly questioned, breezing right by her. "He went to go help out some folks after that whole...magnet thing from earlier, and I haven't seen him since."
"No," she plainly replied, disgruntled by another reminder of that careless accident. Her leg was still sore from that business. "Shouldn't you be...home? 'N stuff?"
Hiro yawned, heading for the lab doors.
"Probably," he conceded. "Gotta find Baymax first."
"Yep. Good luck with that," Leiko said with a shrug, entering the elevator. She tapped the button for her destination and watched the doors close as Hiro made his way into their lab.
"Let me know if you run into him," Hiro requested from down the hall.
Leiko nodded back casually before entering the elevator and resuming her cool, collected pose against the elevator wall, complete with crossed arms and open-mouth gum chewing. As the elevator ascended, she checked her cell phone. Only one message – a text – from ten minutes prior, sent by Hiro.
[Has anyone seen Baymax?]
Leiko wondered how one could lose such a big, slow, clingy, clumsy robot. He wasn't exactly hard to miss. Then again, once he got into his whole routine, he could be hard to shake off. Hard to get him to stop caring, doting, looking out for you. Not unlike his creator. Guy had – er , robot had spent a solid hour helping people 'recover' from the magnet-related accident earlier that afternoon. Nothing serious, just a few bruises and whatever, but...well, he was Baymax. A freaking scratch could become a ten minute ordeal with him if you didn't phrase your replies right. Man, freaking...Fred. Their entire afternoon could've been much more productive if he hadn't screwed up. It was cool that he was trying to be helpful and all, but...he could...really...-
Agh, crap. Damned elevator bell had scared her half to death. She'd started snoozing against the elevator wall, and the bell had awoken her. Scrambling to get out of the elevator, Leiko groaned irritably, shoving her hands in her pockets and tucking her elbows in for a little warmth, chewing on her gum open-mouthed and in an ornery fashion. She marched over to the particular supply room she needed – all the way at the end of this stupid hall, of course – and she swiped the card key Fred had lent her. It took her a couple of minutes of meandering shelves to find the particular section she needed, and then another couple minutes to sort through the specific pieces.
Leiko started second-guessing which parts she'd come to grab. Was it this size? Or that one? The concave piece, or the convex one? And wasn't there that one with the-? No, wait, she'd already gotten that earlier. Or had she? Maybe she should've written everything down...Leiko ended up just stuffing an assortment of items into a plastic bag. She could always put what she didn't need back later.
When she was finished, she made to scurry back, but her head went faint for a moment. Steadying herself against the nearest shelf, she huffed tiredly as she took a seat on the floor. Jeez, cold. Agh. Urgh. Whoo, man. It was a tad scary, her body acting up in such a way. She just needed a minute...
From her lowered perspective, she caught a curious sight: a metal thermos, stuck on the floor under one of the shelving units. Looked pretty dusty, but...she could make out the university logo, accompanied by some...worn-out stickers. A familiar arrangement of them, too. Wait...that star sticker. And that smiley-face doctor one...and those weird little panda-things...-
"Stickers? Really? C'mon, Tadashi, how old are you?"
"Say it ain't so, GoGo. Have you never put stickers on your stuff?"
"Uhhh, yea, when I was six, maybe.""Well...You're missing out.""Oh, really?" she retorted flatly.
"Yea," Tadahi replied with a laugh. "Look at all these choices.""Uh-huh. Look at all this...-" Leiko glared at his sticker sheet. "-...depravity."
"Ouch. C'mon, it's all bright and colorful."
"Exactly. It's gross. This one looks like a marshmallow had a baby with a panda."
"I know, isn't he cute?"
"Cute? Seriously, Tadashi?"
"You underestimate the power of 'cute,' GoGo."
"...Uh-huh.""Evidently, I need some...flaming skulls and lightning bolts to appease you."
"Tsh." Leiko smirked with a slight shake of her head. "Might not hurt..."
Tadashi set his mug up on the table. "Help me pick the next one to add on my mug, here."
GoGo studied the sticker sheet, then decided, "How 'bout this one? He's pretty ugly.""I've already got that guy on here – see?""Uh, 'kayyy...Might as well add another, right?""No can do," Tadashi cited. "Gotta maintain order amongst stickers.""What, is there some...sacred-sticker-arranging law?""It's an art of balance, my friend.""...Yyyea. Stickers: Baby's First Feng Shui. Real artsy stuff."
"You can't deny that my mug's got some personality. It stands out!"
"Pff. Yea, like a sore thumb." Despite her smarmy remark, Leiko stared at Tadahi's profile for a moment in reflection as he admired his simplistic but colorful arrangement. Catching herself gawking, Leiko returned to the sheet. A star-shaped sticker with a shiny gold finish caught her eye. She plucked it from the sticker sheet and adhered it to the mug, top and center over the school logo, above the assortment of stickers around it.
"A gold star?" Tadahi commented with playful sarcasm.. "Wowwww, what I'd do to earn that?"
"Nothing. It's a consolation. A sarcastic, demeaning consolation."Tadashi clasped his palm against his chest facetiously. "I'm touched," he said.
Her smirk widening, Leiko popped some gum into mouth, retorting smugly, "Damn right you are."
"So how do I change your mind?" Tadashi asked.
"How do I get you to recognize the power of 'The Cute?'"
"Uhhh, yea. Not gonna happen."
"Just a touch. A smidgen of cute. A necklace, a wristband, hair highlights...There's gotta be something."
"What are you on about?"
"Your signature, GoGo. I'm not going too fast for you, am I?"
"A little touch of 'cute,' something to help you stand out."
"Want me to tattoo one of these abominations to my arm?"
"No, no, just...a little color could really bring out your features."
"And when did you become a stylist?" Leiko remarked, her insides churning as he studied her face critically – rather invested in her appearance, huh? "Or so interested in my features?"
Fussing with his SFIT cap – his own 'signature' – Tadashi nodded contemplatively. Sidestepping Leiko's question, he advised, "Highlights. That'd help you stand out. Give you that 'touch of cute,' that iconic signature."
"Oh, yeah?" She decided she'd humor his inner fashionista but she was keep it guarded.
"Yea. You should add some streaks. You've got bangs that would work with it. Something bright. You seem to like yellow...Or Red?"
"Something to consider, GoGo."
Ah, crap. She was falling asleep again.
Snapping herself awake, she banged the back of her head right on the edge of a shelf.
"Argh-! Damnit!" she hissed in pain, clutching the back of her skull. Sliding onto her knees, she groaned tiredly as she crawled across the floor. It took a little bit of effort but her tiny hands were capable of squeezing into the tight space and snatching the mug up from the floor. She choked a little on all the dust, and wiped some of it off on her jacket.
A small airtight vacuum sealed the internal chamber from its metal exterior – the simplistic solution to keeping the beverage inside from cooling (or heating). The exterior was a classic combo of Fe + C + Cr. In other words, stainless steel. Leiko was fond of stainless steel – it didn't rust or erode. It stayed the course and did its duty like a good little metal. Up for anything and quite versatile, yet it was an alloy that wasn't all too extravagant or fancy. Shiny but efficient.
This particular thermos had once been Tadashi's coffee companion. Leiko could still remember the many times she and he would take their coffee breaks at the same time – get away from the hub-bub, just relax on the steps of SFIT. She'd typically have a paper cup of coffee fresh from the on-campus shop, and Tadashi would rock his childish but charming thermos. They'd shoot the shit one day, hash out theoreticals the next...But Tadashi was usually the one talking. Leiko wasn't one for words most of the time, but Tadashi had possessed a rare talent of bringing them out of her. During their coffee breaks, Leiko would always finish her drink before he did, because he always talked more. And he'd follow her back inside, his thermos keeping his drink nice and warm all the while.
Those little moments of solitude, away from the chaos of the lab, from the ruckus of students...They would never have those moments together again. Had they been enough? Had Tadashi truly comprehended how grateful she was for what he'd done – who he was?
No use wondering about it anymore. Only thing to do was go forward and all that. 'Karma' her way through things and try to do what Tadashi's little brother and bouncy robot were doing: carrying on his wishes. Helping a lot of people.
With a cranky sigh, Leiko began chewing her gum again, bringing herself out of her thoughts. Leiko pushed herself up onto her feet, then yawned again. As she made her way for the door with dirty thermos in hand, she heard a familiar kind of creaking sound – robot footsteps from the hallway. Ugh.
The door – she'd left it open in her haste. Sure enough, when she entered the hallway, there was Baymax, standing between her and the elevator. She stared at him in a sleepy haze as he did his silly little waving gesture down at her. In his cheerfully neutral tone, he greeted her.
"Hey," she said back simply. If she just played it cool, hopefully he'd-
"I was alerted to your need for assistance when I heard...a cry of distress."Gah. Or maybe not.
"...Yea," Leiko flatly acknowledged. "I just-""According to my scan, you seem to have a light abrasion on your...head, as well as moderate bruising on your...left thigh, and...right wrist."
All right. Time to cut to the chase and be on her merry way.
"That's cool, Max, uh, I'm feeling a zero, pain-wise, and...I'm satisfied with my care."
Baymax stood, his robot eyes evidently seeing through her dismissal, though he was remiss to call her out.
"Soo...-" She worked her way around him, rubbing at her drowsy eyes. "I'll, uh...-" A yawn escaped her and she stretched out her arms – a bag of parts in hand, the dirty thermos in the other. "See ya later."
"I am looking for Hiro Hamada," Baymax explained starting to trot behind her. "Have you seen him?"
"Yeeeaa, he's back at the lab, I think," Leiko mumbled over her shoulder as she reached the elevator.
"Thank you for your assistance."
To her chagrin, Baymax continued to waddle, making his way for the elevator. Leiko discreetly jammed her finger at the elevator button repeatedly, but his balloon body rebuffed the doors on his way in, which seemed to confuse him briefly before entry. His elastic girth filled the majority of the elevator, and Leiko's small stature spared her from being squished against the walls. Someone like Wasabi would probably be struggling to breath in the same space. Leiko sighed at the feeling of the elevator shifting downward, her stomach briefly churned, and then another yawn came out.
"Leiko," Baymax commented as the elevator descended. "Further scans indicate that your body is...lethargic. Your movements are sluggish, your neural activity is lower than normal, and you are yawning, which is indicative of-"
"I'm fine, Baymax.""Diagnosis: Sleep deprivation.""Seriously, don't worry. I'm cool. I've got work to do. Just...-"
"Sleep deprivation can impair judgment, memory, and alertness. A sleep-deprived individual is likely to exercise poor judgment concerning their own lack of rest."
Oh, goodie. Out of a convo with a walking comic book encyclopedia, into a convo with a walking healthcare encyclopedia. Soooo much fun.
"Hate to disappoint you, Max-" said Leiko, tossing up her recently acquired thermos and snatching it in mid-air. "-but I can't afford to rest right now. What I need is...-" She glanced at the sticker-laden thermos and recollected the fact that Fred had made some coffee recently. "-...a hot cup of coffee."
"Caffeine and other stimulants cannot successfully alleviate the drowsiness associated with sleep deprivation."
Yep. Definitely a freaking robot's way of looking at it. Missing the whole point.
"Why do you keep saying that?" Leiko inquired grumpily. "I'm not sleep deprived, I'm...just a little tired."
"You require rest. According to my analysis, you have not been sleeping properly for some time. An adult at your age should be sleeping for seven to nine hours per day to keep your body and mind fully rested."
"...Good to know," Leiko mumbled dryly. Too bad she didn't physically have the time to get that amount of sleep. Not if she wanted to stay on top of everything else.
The elevator landing was just the cue Leiko needed to escape an inquisition, and she took off for the public restroom on that floor. Once inside, she went straight to the sink to rinse out the musty thermos she'd discovered with some steaming water. Once she was content with the inside, she cautiously used a paper towel to clean off the exterior – it was tricky, trying to clean it without dampening the stickers.
Leaving the thermos and her tech parts on the sink's counter, Leiko took a seat at a stall to relieve herself. She let her eyes close and took a deep breath, her body run-down.
"Oh, hey, there...GoGo.""Not you, too, Tadashi...Gimme a break.""Hey, I don't come up with the names."
"You just enforce them.""Of course.""So...What? Does Fred do this to everyone?""Heh. He sure does. Better get used to yours, it's gonna stick.""Fan-freaking-tastic...""The fact that he came up with one for you so quickly...that's telling.""Yea? What about you, then, Tadashi? Huh? What's yours?""Mm? Ah, no...He's still working on a handle for me.""Uh-huh..." Leiko nodded, her mouth agape with skepticism. "So I'll have to...help you get into a food-related accident, too. Then there'll two of us."
"Four, actually," Tadashi replied, without skipping a beat. "But, sure. Go for it."
"...You're not gonna stop me?"
"You're unstoppable, right? No point in getting in your way."
Her face instinctively formed a smirk at that and she crossed her arms with some pride."All right," she said with concession. "You've got me all figured out, huh?""You tell me," Tadashi replied with a wry little smile.
Stirring herself from her short-lived stupor, Leiko groaned with irritation. She would never get this crap done if she kept spacing out like that. Finishing her business in the bathroom, Leiko gave the coffee mug another once over before exiting. The flavor in her gum all but gone by now, she made the impulsive decision to do what she often did with gum – stick it to something for good luck. Not unlike Tadashi's stickers, huh? She plopped her glob of gum into a fatty disc of pink alongside the sticker assortment. Baby's First Feng Shui was thrown off by this, but that made it all the more fitting for her.
Another near heart-attack awaited when she opened the door to see the familiar balloony body of Baymax – like he'd just been standing right outside the door, stalking her.
"Your heart rate spiked briefly. I apologize if my presence alarmed you. I assure you, I am here to help."
"Yea..." Leiko grunted, walking right past him and into the lab. She could hear his little robo-legs crawling behind her. "Weren't you looking for Hiro? Doesn't he 'require rest?'"
"You are correct. Hiro is currently located-""Right here," Hiro greeted with a yawn, hovering at his work station in the otherwise emptied 'nerd lab.'
"Awesome," Leiko breathed out with relief, tilting her head back. "You can take your portable nurse with you. I've got work to do."
Leiko approached her workspace, dropping the bag of parts unceremoniously to her left, and setting the thermos with care to her right, brushing aside the long-empty paper coffee cup she'd used that afternoon and dunking it in the recycling bin by her table. She pulled up one of the labs wheeled stools and sat her weary body down to get to work. Hiro and Baymax were having some conversation behind her, but her focus was on the damned prototype in front of her.
Ughh, where the hell was I? I got all this crap now, but-...There was something I know I needed to do before I could-..."Rrrgh..."
Rubbing sand from her eyes with her knuckles, Leiko inhaled another yawn before exhaling her impatience in a hot puff. Sleepiness slowed things down, which was particularly aggravating when deadlines were involved. Maybe if she had a space to work in by herself, without so many distractions, she could've gotten the damned thing finished by now. The 'magnet incident' certainly hadn't helped, either. But at least the idiot responsible had left a parting gift of fresh coffee. Hunched over the table, Leiko surveyed the empty thermos, its once-bright stickers faded yet expressive. It was in this moment of exhaustion and melancholy that Leiko concluded that Fred had probably been right: she needed a little more 'go,' after all.
"Yo," she greeted him cautiously. His response was delayed, so involved was he in his coding."...Yo," he replied over the clattering of his keyboard.
"Uhh...-" With hesitation, Leiko glanced around the guy's workspace. There was an alarming number of so-adorable-she-hated-them toys and figurines. Like his own little...freakish cheering squad.
"Mm?" he finally glanced up to see his visitor. "Oh. Erhh...Hey, Tomago.""Hey," she replied. "'Sup?""Like Callaghan always says – burning the midnight oil.""Why?" She eavesdropped on the computer code he was hammering away at, but couldn't make much sense of it. "Some kinda deadline?""Nah, this is my personal project.""That why you get your own little room, here?""Heh. Yea, Callaghan lets me use this space for all the extra-curricular stuff I've got going on.""Uh-huh..." Leiko nodded complacently. What was the appeal in doing more work when you were done with work?"What about you?" Tadashi wondered. "It's been a couple weeks...How're you liking it here? What have you been up to?"Yeesh. A loaded question, for sure. Deliberately phrased, to boot. He was sharp, but gentle at the same time. She liked that."Ah, well, you know," Leiko casually mumbled with a shrug. "Just...biking. Lotta biking.""Yea, seems like half the time I see you, you're on that bike.""Yep. Kinda my thing.""Not biking with the same people anymore, though, huh?"And there it was again – that pricking question with a soft touch to it."Uh, no," Leiko was quick to assure. "Nope. By myself these days. It's cool. Just me and my baby.""Your baby?""The bike.""He got a name?""Uh, yea, she has a name...""Which is...?""Ethel.""Nice name.""Why I picked it.""Seems like you've got good judgment, Tomago.""Leiko.""Huh?""First name: Leiko.""Oh. Ha. By the end of the semester, you'll be getting called something else..."
"...And why's that?"
"Who's Fred?""You haven't met Fred?""Uh...No idea who that is. So no."
"That's not cryptic and creepy at all."
"If you spent a little more time at the school, you'd have met him by now."
"Yea, well...Got places to be. Things to do."
"Yea, with Ethel."
"Well. You're at SFIT now, Leiko. You should start fitting time in for your peers.""Should I?"
Leiko's shoulders tingled at the coy smile he gave her as he replied, "You should.""Uh-huh..." Leiko let the tension slide, gazing off across Tadashi's workspace. She jammed her hands in her pockets and tried to keep her cool. "Guess I owe you a coffee date, at the least."
"That's the reason I stopped by." With her back turned to him as she admired some wall hangings, she twisted her head over her shoulder. "Wanted to, uh...thank you. For putting in a good word for me.""No need to thank me," Tadashi insisted. "Everybody deserves a second chance. We all make some bad calls now and again.""Sure, but...-" Leiko sighed, shrugging as she turned away from his sly little glances. "Why'd you stick your neck out for me like that?""Why not?""You don't know me," Leiko replied in earnest, a bit puzzled."I do now, don't I?""Tsh."
"What can I say? I believe in karma, Tomago. You pass some good will onto someone, and chances are, they're gonna pass that along to someone else.""So there's a catch to your generosity.""Not at all." He chuckled at her prickly defense. "You really could stand to cut loose a little bit. Slow down, take a breather. Not everyone's out to get you. Not anymore.""I'm not really a 'stop-and-smell-the-roses' kinda woman.""It's not about smelling roses. It's about knowing when you need a pit stop.""I don't need pit stops," Leiko dryly boasted.
Tadashi pushed up the brim of his hat and stared into her cold eyes with skepticism and earnesty."Everyone needs pit stops," he insisted.
Leiko was jarred from her ever-so-brief nap by a shake of her shoulder. With a sharp intake of breath, Leiko found herself wiping drool off her lips as she spun her head around to see a concerned Hiro looking up to her. She felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. Being caught with saliva on her face, falling asleep at her work table? Opposite of cool.
"You feeling OK?" Hiro wondered, his expression conveying some pity mixed with skepticism. Leiko was not pleased.
"Leiko," Baymax interjected. "Based on your neural activity, you appear to be experiencing...micro sleeps. These are indicative of-"
"Mm," Leiko hummed out crankily, rubbing her dried out eyes and shoving her other hand toward Baymax, as if to shoo away his medical mumbo-jumbo. She was freaking tired. She got the point.
"You might want to listen to Baymax," Hiro recommended coyly.
"'M just...-" Leiko was cut off when some of her own spit went down the wrong tube. She coughed on it in an ornery fashion with a scowl on her face. When Hiro extended an arm in her direction, she shot up a palm, halting his gesture. After catching her breath, she groaned with frustration at her own body's lack of coordination. "I'm fine," she stated, staring at Baymax, who seemed quite intent on her a the moment.
"I apologize," Baymax courteously prefaced. "However, all of my analysis concludes that you require rest. If you begin to lose consciousness again, my programming dictates that I administer proper care to prevent you from sustaining harm."
Hiro put in, "So, what he said – but also? I don't have to be a healthcare bot to be able to tell that you're not fine."
Leiko let an endeared smirk spill out as she gazed at Hiro's concern, veiled by an aloof demeanor. Reminded her of a certain someone.
"Doesn't matter either way," Leiko stated, pushing herself up from her stool and onto two feet. "This thing needs to be finished," she sighed, glaring at the mass of yellow and red and black that sat on the workbench before her. With a long yawn, she stretched up one arm and lazily gestured the other toward Wasabi's ornately arranged tool set across the way. "Could you get me the...-?" Another yawn. Damn, this was pointless. She could barely finish a sentence, let alone continue her work.
"GoGo," Hiro said timidly. "You've...been at this all weekend."
"It's gotta get done," Leiko answered simply.
"You should just ask for an extension," Hiro suggested with a shrug.
"Already did," Leiko murmured bitterly. This thing was late. And it looked as though it was going to be extra late. GoGo Tomago was not one to care much for being late. It pissed her off to no end.
GoGo and Hiro exchanged awkward at-odds expressions for a second or so until Hiro's eyes quickly darted away. He stuffed his hands into his hoodie pockets and yawned himself.
"Mmmmaybe I could help you finish it?" he offered. "I was taking a look at it earlier, and I noticed that you might be able to squeeze better m-"
"No," Leiko instantly retorted. Upon catching the way the kid flinched ever-so-slightly at her rebuff, she sighed through her nose and explained. "Thanks, Hiro, but...this is my deal. You help me build it n' the whole thing's pointless. I get that you're this...Kid Genius, but...I'm an engineer. Let me build my own stuff for once. 'Kay?"
Hiro's mouth swiveled at the rejection, but Leiko could tell in his eyes that he understood. She wasn't trying to be a bitch. But she liked to take care of things on her own. Earlier that day, if freaking Fred had let her do her own thing, then there wouldn't have been any kind of 'incident'.
"Gotcha," Hiro mumbled as Leiko's eyelids started to droop again. "I'll make you a deal."
Leiko shook off her drowsiness and intook a sharp breath through her nose.
She began with "I don't think you're in a position to be...-" but another yawn escaped Leiko's flimsy grasp.
Hiro made his offer. "If you take a break – go to sleep – I won't tinker with it."
In her hazy state of mind, Leiko was still aware enough to know that she was likely going to pass out real quick. And she'd been running on empty for long enough where if Whiz Kid did make changes, she wouldn't be able to tell what they were in the morning. And that idea was annoying as hell. She couldn't tolerate the thought of someone else doing her work for her.
"Fine," she cracked, letting the kid's mischievous concern leak in. "But I need a drink first." She snatched up her old-new thermos and made her way for the coffee machine.
"I would not recommend consuming caffeine before bed-rest," Baymax interjected, waddling his way after Leiko.
"Pretty sure caffeine's not gonna do much for me either way," Leiko decided as she reached the coffee pot. Light was still on. As Baymax and Hiro approached her position, she cautiously pressed her palm against the pot. Still warm. She let her hand linger there for a moment, hypnotized by the warmth. She set the thermos on the countertop beside the pot.
Gazing at the worn out stickers clinging to the thermos for dear life, Leiko murmured to herself, "Fuel makes the fire."
"Huh?" Hiro was understandably confused.
Baymax inquired, "Will a caffeinated beverage improve your emotional state?"
"Wh-? Oh. Yea, that's it," Leiko dismissed the robot's programmed concern while simultaneously acknowledging that he'd finally gotten the point. She took up the coffee pot and poured the steaming black liquid into the metal container, filling it halfway up.
"I still cannot recommend consumption of caffeinated beverages under your current condition."
Leiko's bloodshot eyes slowly blinked, her eyelids barely lingering open. Her patience with this conversation had been pretty much gone before it had even begun. She sighed through her nose, rubbing her thumb along the metal thermos she clung in her hand. She dabbed her thumb against the wad of gum she'd stuck to the thermos – still a little damp. Mouth slightly agape, she glared at Baymax, watching his head mechanically twitch from her face to the thermos she clasped, then back to her face. Leiko ignored his robotic observations and took a sip. It was hot, it was dark, and it was bitter. Just the way she liked it.
"When coping with loss," Baymax recanted, "it is typical to attach emotions to specific objects, images, or symbols associated with that which has been lost. These symbols can provide limited comfort to a grieving individual."
"...What?" Leiko nearly choked on her second sip of coffee.
"What's that got to do with coffee?" Hiro asked, giving Leiko a studious stare.
She could feel her face heating up in a moment of sudden vulnerability. Baymax wasn't a mind-reader, so how had he figured out...-?
"Your...stainless steel container has trace amounts of DNA," Baymax pointed out. "My analysis has concluded that this thermal container was previously owned by...Tadashi Hamada."
Sneaky robotic bastard! She had to give him credit – he was built well. He did his job quite stubbornly, and she knew where the bot had picked that trait up from.
"That was my brother's?" Hiro checked, pointing at the object in Leiko's hands.
"Uh, sure," she passively replied. She'd been found out. She scratched at her cheek and fake-yawned, hoping the kid wouldn't notice how flustered she was. "Just...found this up in the supply room, on the floor, and...it jogged my memory a bit. So...-"
"It is all right to cry," Baymax courteously encouraged. "Crying is a natural response to pain." His words were like patronizing pinpricks.
"Whoa, I'm not...-" Leiko gave the bot a harsh glare and an accusatory shrug. "I'm fine." But her face was boiling up. She was de-shelled. Exposed.
Hiro seemed speechless, studying Leiko's grumpy expression and gesture with a pensive look about him, as if observing an animal in a cage. He extended his hand, eyeing the thermos, and after another sip of hesitation, Leiko let him hold it.
"Feeling a little sentimental," Leiko mumbled defensively, shrugging at Hiro, then glaring at Baymax, who closed the distance to her. "That's all."
"Your heart-rate is...elevated," Baymax observed. "Blood is rushing to your cheeks, and your neural activity denotes a state of...embarrassment, and frustration. Personal loss is nothing to be ashamed of."
Hiro smirked with a glow of warmth to him – like he'd been in Leiko's place before and knew what was coming. Leiko sipped at her coffee and took a step back. Baymax took a step forward and continued his job.
"Treatments for personal loss include: interaction with friends and loved ones, physical contact, and reassurance." To Leiko's dismay, the fluffy balloon bot squeezed her into a squishy, cuddly hug. She was too exhausted to bother struggling against the person-like pillow, so she endured the entirely-too-comfortable contact. He tapped his puffy palm against her head, his body glowing red as it heated her. "You will be all right. There-there. I am sorry for your loss."
"Whoa, whoa. Easy. Take it easy.""I'm screwed, you don't-" Tears were trickling down her cheeks in a steady stream of fear."You're gonna be fine," Tadashi reassured.
"They're gonna come looking for me.""Not here, they won't.""What the ff...-?" She was shaking her head in a panic. Her hands trembled, hidden away in her pockets. She spit out quick utterances of doubt. "What am I gonna do? What the hell am I gonna...-?""Chill. Stay calm. We're gonna figure this all out.""You haven't seen what I have, Tadashi. What we-...What they do."
"Can't you just go to your parents' place?""Are you kidding me? That's the first place they'll look. Besides, my family doesn't exactly approve of what I've been up to, so-...Damnit, what am I...-?""Freaking out isn't going to solve anything right now.""I don't know what else to do but freak," she cited, brushing her wrists over her eyes."Leiko." His hands clamped down on her shoulders, steadying her. The first time he'd touched her."What?" she snarled back, her voice cracking, eyes twitching as her mind was running circles.
"Stop." Tadashi pulled her into a sudden and tight hug."I don't...-" Leiko couldn't figure out what to say, but that gesture of support was exactly what she'd needed in that moment, when everything felt lost.
Silence passed for a couple of seconds as Leiko absorbed his sympathy."I've already talked with Callaghan," he tried to ease. "We think there's a scholarship we can get you signed up for – it'll be a lot of work, but you're a go-getter, right?"
Leiko nodded in reply, her eyes wandering away from Tadashi's solemn concern. Tadashi continued."You'll be fine. You can take that knowledge you've gotten and put it to a better use. Help people with it, instead of hurting them. Tomorrow we'll figure out housing, but for tonight, just stay here on campus. They're not going to look for you at a place like this, right?"Leiko shrugged with uncertainty. She had no idea if they would crash a tech school or not, but it certainly wasn't likely, she'd give him that."I pull all-nighters here all the time," Tadashi explained, giving her a reassuring pat on the back as she let him lead her to his mini-office of sorts. "C'mon, I've got a place you can sleep things off. Out in the lounge here. We'll figure out the rest tomorrow."
The sound of Hiro's snickering drew Leiko's conscious out of another mini-nap. Oh, sorry, Baymax: micro-sleep. Gah. She was so freaking tired. The fact that Baymax's body was a heater mixed with a pillow wasn't helping her stay awake.
Leiko cleared her throat, groggily nudging herself back onto her feet. As she came back to her senses, she noticed that Hiro was smiling up at her, clasping the bedazzled thermos in his hands.
Hiro clicked open the top and took a whiff of the over-brewed coffee as bits of steam billowed up.
"Still hot," Hiro noted, extending it toward Leiko, who was abashedly avoiding Baymax's inquisitive little camera gaze. What if he was recording all of this? Damnit, he probably was. "Here," Hiro said, drawing Leiko's attention back to the thermos.
"You don't want it?" Leiko posed, conceding the mug to the boy whose brother was gone.
"You should keep it," Hiro insisted, nudging it closer toward her.. She accepted it with a smirk, then yawned. Hiro rubbed at his eyes – also baggy – and grinned his goofy grin at Baymax, stating, "Tadashi already entrusted me with something pretty special."
Baymax's head twisted toward him, but his robotic brain didn't have an answer for that sentiment. Leiko ran her thumb across the weathered stickers on the mug as she stared at Hiro's smile.
"Yea. Well...Me, too," she murmured pensively, taking a sip of her coffee. It was nearly empty. Hiro must've had a little. The two humans in the room got quiet for a few moments, exchanging glances that went from warm to nostalgic to melancholic.
"Your emotional states are reflecting a sense of...pain. If my information concerning Tadashi's DNA has contributed to-""It's OK, Baymax," Hiro assured gently. "I think we just need to get some rest."
Leiko silently took another sip, her eyes glazed over as her half-awake brain was struggling to keep her memories in the past.
Baymax was an ironically charming puzzle when he wasn't irksome. Despite not being a human being, he seemed pretty keen on observing those around him. Leave it to serve as an example of what humans ought to do.
"Leiko's condition has not improved," Baymax stated. "I am concerned that bedrest will not be as effective if her mental state is not remedied."
Unhappy with having attention drawn to her 'mental state,' Leiko pointed out, "I thought you were supposed to be a health-bot. Not a psychiatrist."
"I am programmed to assist everyone's healthcare needs, including emotional or psychiatric care."The words were as mechanical and courteous as always, but Leiko couldn't help but wonder if he was being spiteful somehow.
Leiko rubbed at her bloodshot eyes and took a swig of the coffee. It didn't taste very good, but the aesthetic was what she was after.
"This container was previously used by...Tadashi Hamada," Baymax recanted. "Tadashi was...your friend. Is this why you desired...coffee?"
"Fascinating." Leiko sighed, brushing off his question and heading out of the lab. She was going to make a bee line toward the nearest lounge room. There was a study lounge down the hall with a couch that was comfy enough. It wouldn't be her first time crashing there.
But Baymax was in hot pursuit. Or, well, what constituted as such given his waddling pace.
He advised to her back, "I am programmed to not leave a patient's side until their condition has stabilized, and they say that they are satis-"Through grit teeth, Leiko growled under her breath, "Oh, I am satisfied with my fucking care..."
"GoGo...?" Hiro mumbled with some shock, picking up the pace.
"You sound...distressed," Baymax noted as the trio of them wandered down the dimly lit hallway. "Sudden use of vulgarity can indicate...anger, impatience, or pain."
"Yea, no sh-"
"What's going on with you?" Hiro demanded, tugging at Leiko's jacket before she could finish her sentence – and before she could retreat into the lounge. "Are you mad at me, or...or Baymax? Or-?""Argh, what? No," Leiko swiftly assured. "Nuh-uh, it's not...-""Because I really am sorry," Hiro insisted.
"You got hurt today because it was my idea to get us all...into this...super team thing. And that happened because of Tadashi...which happened because of my invention, and...-""Nope, you're not doing that to yourself," Leiko sternly criticized. Clamping her hand down on Hiro's shoulder, she forcefully mumbled, "We've gone through this. That wasn't on you. No way you could've known. And the reason I'm mad right now? Not your fault. At all. So stop it."
Leiko did her best to force earnesty and gratitude through her bloodshot eyes, and Hiro did his best to accept her words with a solemn nod.
"You're...acting a little strange tonight," Hiro mumbled with a shrug.
"Argh, look. Hiro." Leiko swished the last of her coffee around, glancing down at the Whiz Kid. "Sorry. Not in a good place tonight. OK?"
With a raised finger, Baymax cited, "You are...sleep deprived."
Gently rolling her eyes, Leiko said to Hiro, mimicking the robot's intonation, "I'm also...'sleep deprived.' There's a lot going on in my head. Nothing you did. Got it?"
Right on cue, Baymax reached their sides and daintily dropped his two cents right on Leiko's nose. "Those who suffer a loss require support from friends and loved ones. Would you like to share your feelings, or shall I contact someone for you to speak with?"
"No," Leiko spit out – a defense mechanism more than a decision. "No, I don't...-" She shook her head with contemplation before deciding, "Not a good idea."
Hiro had some words for that, though.
"But holing yourself up all alone in the lab, working until you pass out...That is a good idea?"
Leiko, however, did not have words to counter with.
Hiro added, "I don't know what's up, but I can tell that whatever's going on, I've been in a place like that before."
"Yea," Leiko affirmed, recalling that quite well. After letting the moment of melancholy hang in the air for a second or two, Leiko tiredly ran her hand through her hair and grunted out, "Well...-" Trailing off, she entered the study lounge.
Hiro lingered by the doorway – which she left open – and exchanged looks with Baymax. Baymax, naturally, didn't really convey much with his blank expression, but Hiro figured the robot's silence meant that the humans were on the right path toward 'stabilization.'
Upon entering the lounge, Hiro found Leiko already laid back across a two cushion couch, using its squishy, leather-clad arm as a makeshift pillow. She had set down the thermos on the coffee table right in front of the couch, and was laying on her side, her arms wrapped around her abdomen as she stared dully into empty space.
Hiro and Baymax approached, but Leiko didn't immediately acknowledge their presence. She hadn't decided if she just wanted to be left alone – as usual – or if she would take Baymax's advice on the whole 'talking about feelings' bit. It would probably be easier to talk about stuff with Hiro than anyone else, though. He was younger, less likely to judge her, and he had felt Tadashi's death a lot harder than she had. Damn, by comparison she probably didn't have a right to be making a fuss, but...she'd just been letting it simmer for weeks. Some silly reminder of the guy and suddenly she was feeling all sappy. There were reasons why, of course, but...it still was frustrating. She wanted to let it all go, move on...
She'd been phasing out of consciousness again when a funny-smelling blanket was draped across her. A drowsy look at its edge made her realize Hiro had picked it up from the room's opposing couch. She glanced up to see Hiro yawning down at her. She rubbed at her eyes, then tucked her legs up, freeing the second cushion. One of the advantages of being small-statured was that it was easy to make space for others to join you. A trait that GoGo Tomago perhaps didn't often take advantage of.
"Sit," she commanded in a groggy syllable, eyes squinted shut.
Hiro shrugged up at Baymax and did as he'd been told, tensing up a bit when Leiko placed her shins on his lap. He sat nervously for a couple seconds, his hands lingering over her legs. Afraid to relax them there, he opted to fold his arms across his chest and lean back against the couch.
"Baymax," Leiko grunted out, still 'resting her eyes.'
"How can I help?" Baymax inquired.
"Refill my drink," Leiko commanded with a yawn.
"I would not recommend-""It's fine," Leiko interjected. "It'll help. Just a little would be great."
Hiro watched as Baymax's head twitched down toward the empty thermos, then to the relaxing Leiko.
"Will another caffeinated beverage improve your emotional state?" Baymax posed.
"Oh, yea," Leiko insisted, scratching her nose. "Would help a lot. Definitely...would do that thing you just said."
Leiko opened one eye as Baymax's robotic little hands daintily scooped up the thermos and his body ever-so-slowly waddled its way out of the room. Leiko stretched out her arms and legs, rolling onto her back as she waited for his departure. Hiro seemed to shrink at the casual intimacy, his body tingling and warm despite his lethargy.
"I don't know how you live with him," Leiko quietly mused with a light laugh.
"He, uh...-" Hiro nodded to himself. "He grows on you."
Leiko, eyes now open, glanced over to her Whiz Kid friend, and smirked.
"Yea, I know the feeling," she said. "Anyway, uh...-" Her eyes wandered away from his puzzled gaze.
"What's up?" asked Hiro, glancing toward the open door, and listening to the slowly disappearing sound of Baymax's footsteps. "I'm guessing you aren't actually thirsty."
"Nah," Leiko confirmed. "Just needed a little privacy."
"Ah." Hiro nodded some more, his eyes glued to her pensive, half-awake, ceiling-bound stare. He waited for more, figuring she'd say whatever it was she needed to when it came to her.
Leiko sniffed in a deep breath, exhaled a tired sigh, and scratched at her eyelashes, considering what it was she had to put into words.
"Am I doing a good job?" Leiko asked aloud, still gazing at the ceiling tiles.
"At...what?" Hiro inquired.
"At...-" Leiko chewed at some dead skin on her lip as she contemplated. "I dunno. Looking out for you? I guess? Like, being here? And stuff. For you."
She tried to read Hiro's expression to see if she was making sense, but near as she could surmise, she wasn't. Damnit, she'd just made things awkward. Abort.
"Nevermind," she mumbled, her eyes again escaping his. "I didn't...-""No, I get it," Hiro eased. "You're doing a good job. Yea."
Leiko gave him a skeptical look, still doubting that he really 'got' it.
"You've got Baymax to watch your back, but...I guess I...-" She sighed, sliding her eyes closed.
"You feel like you owe it to my brother," Hiro deduced. "To keep an eye on me."
"...Something like that," Leiko muttered, scratching her stomach and tucking the musty afghan blanket beneath her hips.
Leiko opened her eyelids back up. It was getting harder each time.
"You don't have to look at it that way," said Hiro, body tense as he avoided contact with Leiko's fidgeting. "I've got Baymax, Aunt Cass...And all of you guys are there."
"Yea," Leiko agreed knowingly. "But your brother-...Tadashi did a lot for me. He helped pull me outta some nasty stuff."
"Oh. I...-" Hiro paused, scratching his fingers through that mop he passed for a hairdo. "I didn't know that."
"Yea, well." A grouchy yawn from Leiko. "There's a lot about me you don't know. Probably better that way."
Leiko was unsure if that had been a wise thing to say. Hiro didn't have a reply – and why would he? What did you say to something like that? Ugh. Why was she acting so stupid tonight?
"It sucks," she blurted out bitterly, glaring through the ceiling. "Tadashi's dead. For no good reason."
After a lamentable pause, Hiro nodded simply.
"You learn to move on," Leiko rambled tiredly. "But every once in a while? Just slaps you in the face. You remember. Then you realize that you've learned to forget, because remembering...just...-""Hurts.""Yea. And then you get pissed off, because you forgot. Right? Damned if you do, damned if you don't. But-...Anyway."
Hiro looked a little pale in the face, his arms all crossed and such.
Leiko checked, "Dude, am I freaking you out, or...-?"
"Huh? No, it's...fine. I'm not really used to you, um...-"
"Expression emotions beside sarcasm?"
"Sorry. Uh...just relax, or...something."
She stared him down until he did as he was told, letting his arms relax and cross over her shins, fingers locking together as he twiddled with his thumbs. She could tell he was starting to nod off, too.
"I didn't cry," Leiko confessed, vaguely at first. "When he died. I mean, I attended the services. You saw me. I didn't know what to tell your Aunt. What to tell you. What to say. I let the others handle that. I don't even-...I don't think Cass even knows how much Tadashi did for me. But...even now, I just-...No tears. I wanted to. Sometimes I still do, but...I just couldn't. Can't." Leiko's cheeks were starting to burn up, her eyes dampened as the memories and regrets came swelling back to the surface. But the tears weren't going to come. "It's not how I operate," she explained, clearing her throat. "I keep going. I don't stop. But then, today, I...-"
"You're tired," Hiro deduced.
"Yea. Of a lot of things. That thermos, it just...made my brain jump back. It made me stop. Look back at things I haven't let myself think about for a long time. Think about the big picture. I guess."
"Well...I've been there. I'm glad you're letting yourself...do that."
"Yea. I dunno. At first I felt obligated to...look out for you. But you helped pull our group together. Tighter than we were before. In the beginning I was...actually kinda pissed."
"Huh? About what?"
"About how you were just...trying to take charge. Getting us to 'upgrade' and stuff? Pulling us on this war path where you were the one charge? Acting like you were going to lead us to on your revenge quest. Part of me hated that – the idea of this kid trying to fill Tadashi's shoes, tell me what to do."
"Oh. I wasn't really...trying to do that. I wasn't trying to fill...-""Nah, I know. I was just thinking selfish crap. But when we found you in that garage...And you were crying. I guess it just...really hit me."
"That you were dealing with the same stuff I was. But worse. That you're...still a kid. And that with Tadashi gone, you needed someone to help pick up that slack."
"Hm. I'm glad I have you guys. I'm glad I have you."
"So I'm doing OK by you?"
"Well...You have your moments."
"Pff. Yea." She smiled, letting her eyelids slide closed. "Damned right I do."
"Seriously?" After all Tadashi's big talk, Leiko was...not impressed."Seriously." But Tadashi was adamant that he had some kind of breakthrough here."But he's so...-" Leiko's face scrunched up at the sight, words eluding her."Cute?" Tadashi finished her thought."...Yea." Leiko grimaced at the puffy white monstrosity before her. "That's...one word for it.""You underestimate the power of cute," Tadashi wryly said with a smirk.
Tadashi ejected a neon green diskette from his computer and set it with care on his desk.
Leiko approached him from behind, gazing at the diskette as Tadashi went sifting through the desk's drawers. There was a strip of weathered masking tape across the diskette's top, with the name 'Tadashi Hamada' written in marker.
"Ah, here we go," Tadashi pulled out his packet of half-used sticker sheets, and Leiko raised her brow.
"You're...not seriously gonna cover your robot in that stuff, are you?""Stickers wouldn't adhere to Baymax's skin, so no.""Darn," Leiko dryly muttered."But-!" Tadashi waggled up his index finger, arriving at the particular item he'd been searching for. "I've got just the thing to mark this occasion."
"I'm finished with the coding. Ten thousand medical procedures."
"For your nurse bot."
"For my nurse bot," Tadashi repeated, letting Leiko's demeaning tone roll right off him. She liked that.
"So he's...done?" Leiko shrugged. Nothing was ever 'done' with Tadashi.
"Well..." Tadashi shrugged. Of course. "He's ready for the next step. We're at version One-Point-Oh. It's time to start building a few of these big guys, run test protocols, and have them sent to hospitals – seeing how well they perform in a controlled environment. Then I can look into refining the code, scrubbing away the bugs, and...-"Tadashi noticed that Leiko had her arms crossed, leaning against the inactive robot. Fidgeting her position a bit, she cited, "Squishy. A body-sized pillow nurse bot.""Don't call him that," Tadashi mumbled, administering an amused facepalm.
"Next thing ya know," Leiko predicted, "people will be asking for bots that 'satisfy' their care in other ways..." She gave him a facetious and mischievous smile and he seemed to shrink into his hat.
"Someone's been spending too much time around Fred."
"Probably," Leiko replied. "But not by choice. Which is your fault for exposing him to me, so...just look at this as karma." She grinned a rare, toothy smile of sadistic pleasure.
At that, Tadashi shook his head in gentle bemused motions as he peeled a green and white sticker from its sheet, attaching it with care right in the middle of his diskette. It depicted a smiley-face with a stethoscope.
"Tsh." Leiko laid on more sarcasm. "Just needed a little touch of 'cute,' huh?"
"Sure. But you know how that is."
"You know. With the, uh...purple...you've got going on." Tadashi wisped his fingers toward his forehead, implying the recent highlights Leiko had incorporated into her bangs.
"What about it?" she asked, intent on hearing out his opinion – but doing her best to shield this intent with skepticism.
"I was expecting...well, red, to be honest," Tadashi confess. "Thought I had you pegged as more of a red-and-black sort of woman."
Leiko smiled at his theoretical and pushed herself off of the robot, allowing Tadashi the space to approach his creation.
Leiko explained her color choice. "Figured I didn't wanna 'underestimate the power of cute,' I guess."
Tadashi smiled with approval at her snark as he popped his green diskette back into his blobby bot beast.
The robot perked right up, its camera eyes scanning Leiko's body to re-identify her.
"Mmph?" Leiko was stirred from the beginnings of sweet rest when Baymax announced her name. She went to rise from her ever-so-brief slumber, only to realize that her shins were weighted by Hiro's bony little arms. The kid was sleeping against the couch's opposing arm. Even Baymax's words didn't seem to startle him from sleep. Leiko allowed herself a smile at the young Hamada brother, and she cautiously rearranged the afghan she'd been enveloped in, sharing some of it with the boy.
Baymax set down the thermos of stickers onto the coffee table, right in Leiko's eyeshot.
"Your emotional state has improved," Baymax remarked. His words felt like thunder in the quiet of the night, and Leiko tensed at each syllable he spoke. "I can de-""Yea, I know," Leiko burst out, raising a palm to indicate that the robot quiet himself. Itself.
Leiko stared up into blank, empty, mechanical eyes, which make small clicking sounds as they readjusted their lenses – a subtle sound she loved, only audible in the stillness of the night. She gazed over to the dozing Hiro, his mouth agape, drool trickling onto the leathery couch's surface. With Baymax hovering inquisitively over her, Leiko reached out her arm, clutching the thermos cautiously at her sideways angle. She cracked open its top, took a sniff of the staling coffee's vapors, drank in a tiny sip, and closed it. She removed the gum she'd stuck to its side, and gave it a good couple chews. She reached out and pressed the wad of pink into Baymax's leg. For good luck. The robot was, naturally, curious as to this development.
Leiko inhaled a deep yawn, closing her eyes as she exhaled a peaceful sigh.
She stated, drifting off into sleep, "I am satisfied with my care."
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