Stop Playing The Hero

Chapter 7: A Feud between Friends

San Fransokyo Institute of Techonology, Robotics Department, that afternoon according to Tadashi...

In the following days Tadashi soon regretted losing his temper to San. She just had a shock. The last thing she expected was to be partnered. And he had always known she was that hard-working, that dedicated to research. Perhaps she didn’t know how a partnership worked, and was afraid it would interfere with her own work. That was understandable, perfectly. Tadashi simply needed to step up his game, and guided her gently into this. Show her how exciting and enjoyable a partnership can be. He could do it. Everyone said he was remarkably patient, after all.

It was the first time, and not the last, that he seriously underestimated San’s power to test him.

She was cold. Unwilling. As docile as a Spanish bull. It seemed whatever good spark that had graciously existed between them since they met vanished with a loud ‘POP’ after Professor Callaghan’s announcement to throw them together. Tadashi wasn’t there per se, when his mentor told her. But San’s face when he saw her later was enough to tell.

In the subsequent days San’s mood deteriorated whenever Tadashi wandered into her field of vision. Before, she would have chatted pleasantly with each other over Baymax or her bodyguard-bot. But now, he noticed how she became tense whenever he was within 10 feet in her vicinity.

Their whole week had played out like a broken record. Tadashi would try to get close, and she would retreat further than his attempts can reach her. Her response, when he managed to catch her off guard and approach her was now more or less indifferent. When they sat next to each other, their conversations closed up faster than an frightened anemone.

His calls were directed to the voicemail.

He would ask for meet after lectures to have a discussion about their work. She’d say no.

She didn’t even bothered with coming up an excuse.

Why, why were his efforts met with disdain? Was she still mad that he’d crashed-landed into her that first day? That was the only reason Tadashi could think of, and that reason didn’t make any sense. San herself said she didn’t mind, and anyone mature enough to know Fred’s underwear jokes were horrible wouldn’t be one to hold a grudge over such a simple incident. He didn’t always know what she thought of him, he knew what he thought about her.

It had been awkward and even a little painful, seeing their relationship downhilling so fast. Every time she looked at him coldly, every time he caught her eating her packed lunch in the gardens instead of eating with him, his heart would grow heavy in a way he’d never experienced before. Sometimes the only thing he could do was to stare at her for the longest moment, wondering what he could do to get her attention. Tadashi thought of what he could do to ease her dislike of him, but he thought he had never felt so helpless.

Had he done something wrong? He just wanted to be her friend, right? Right? He only wanted to help...

That was exactly the problem, as it turned out. Today, Tadashi had finally worked up the courage to try approaching her again, the topic of their joint project on the tip of his nervous tongue. When he was confronted with a furious, indignant lab mate.

“What exactly is your problem?” She stood up from her chair, with enough force to nearly knock it over. “I can do it myself. I don’t NEED you to coach me.” She told him, eyes narrowing furiously.

A little startled by this outburst, Tadashi tried saying Look, we gotta work together. We’ll both in serious trouble soon if we don’t.”

“I’m sorry. Didn’t I already submit my part? On schedule? In what part am I being a horrible partner?” She cut in, sounding cross. “So what MORE do you want?”

I want you to stop the hardheaded act and work with me for a change. Tadashi gritted his teeth. She did, she did frigging submit. Regularly. She had some pretty interesting ideas on how to program a brain computer interface allowing paralyzed patients to type. “It’s not the same. You working plus me working.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. That’s division of labour, assembling individual parts. That’s not teamwork. Teamwork is working together.”

He reminded her, hoping she would cool down. He prayed that their situation wouldn’t go down any more under.

No such chance. San crossed her arms, head tilting and eyes seething with the heat of a thousand suns. “And by that, you mean meeting each other in the library, seeing each other after school, following each other to lunch? Babysitting each other every waking moment?” She asked dryly. “I think you’ve confused working and over-involvement.”

“Wait, what?” Tadashi said, with a horrified start. She’d misunderstood it completely. “That’s not how it is!”

San had no patience for stutters.

“But it is. You’ve been bothering me non-stop for the last couple of days. And so far you’ve only shown an amazing capacity for interfering with my life... rivalled only by your skill to antagonise me!” She let out a long sigh, messaging the bridge of her nose. “Ugh, what was Professor Callaghan thinking?”

Tadashi gave her a withering look. It seemed nothing he said had sunk in at all. They had argued enough about this. She was still being stubborn, and completely infuriating. But Tadashi was suddenly tired. Tired of all this resistance. Tired of the fighting. Tired of wanting more respect out of this partnership. Tired of resisting every urge to scream and blame. “If you’re so unhappy, why didn’t you say something from the beginning?” He said. San’s mood had a contagious effect, as Tadashi’s ears became a little red himself.

“My expectations then were different.” She curtly said.

“Well, so were mine. Maybe you should listen to your own advice about being obvious.” Tadashi said. “Maybe you didn’t like what I did. But unlike you, I made an effort for you.”

Blinking, she told him coolly. “I told you. I’m too busy for silly chit-chats.”

Tadashi laughed. “That was just an excuse.”

“It’s not an excuse!” She protested.

Tadashi wanted to groan. Was he to explain everything to her? How could she accused him of being blind when she was the one who- “Professor Callaghan wants you to know the value of teamwork. You’ve been a part of our department for a while now, but you don’t let others in. You never ask for help or let us assess your work. You’re not part of any research group. What will everyone think if you just keep to yourself like that?”

“Who cares what they think? To be honest? I don’t really care about them. My research is my own responsibility.”

Tadashi was floored. Two months, and San still thought of people at their department as strangers? Didn’t he see them talk to each other and laugh at some terrible jokes? Last month, she even stood up to the IT Dept. in defence of their department’s use of one the labs. Tadashi was sure he didn’t just imagine the look of awe the people gave her then. Why did she do it, when she didn’t even consider them close enough to be friends?

“How can you say that? They’re your friends.”

“No. They’re your friends. Not mine.” San corrected him. “They may be friendly to me- but only because they think I’m the new Von Neumann. In reality, we’re no more than acquaintances.”

“What about the others? Fred? Honey Lemon? Go Go? Wasabi? You don’t care about them too?” Tadashi asked, his tone all of a sudden dark. His eyes, usually so warm and caring, had a sharp edge to them. He wouldn’t forgive anyone - not even San, for insulting or using his friends. Not many are used to seeing this fiercely protective side of him.

Few ever witness Tadashi in anger, but San certainly didn’t look intimidated by him at the moment. San was, however, slightly taken aback. “No. I didn’t mean them. They’re different...They’ve been nice to me.” She said, trying to sound earnest yet somehow still unsure herself. That tint of doubt, though slight was enough for Tadashi to catch out.

He decided not to press it however, instead asked her the question which had been haunting his mind since forever. “And what about me? Don’t you consider me your friend?"

San didn’t answer. She was only silent, refusing to look at him.

Tadashi was suddenly very irritated. As if tiny little needles were prickling his whole body. Why could never get a clear answer from her? Why was she so reserved when it came to him? Why was she being so darn stubborn?

Tadashi felt fed up with all the unanswered questions she gave him. He couldn’t stand it anymore. He felt something overwhelming welling up his chest. A pang of awful, pent-up frustration that most people rarely ever saw.

“You know what,” He bit out angrily “this is not okay. I’ve been trying to make this work for weeks. But you... Not only did you do nothing, you shoved my efforts back at me. Being rejected hurts! But you act like it didn’t. Unbelievable...”

It’s been two weeks since they were given the assignment and all that time, his efforts had been coldly ignored. Finally, all those times of frustrating failed attempts at getting them to pull themselves together had met a boiling point.

“Why am I even surprised that you don’t have friends? You act like you’re too important for anyone. No wonder they all stay away from you.” Those words just slipped out out Tadashi without him knowing it. He didn’t hear them. Instead he felt something like triumph, happy to have finally said his mind.

But that feeling disappeared, like someone had put a stopper on it, when he saw a flash of hurt in San’s eyes.

Right as he saw it, the gleam of pain faded. In fact, all emotion was suddenly drained from her face, save one. Her stare became cold and dark.

“You keep acting like I need your help...” She said in a grinded, bitter voice. “Has it ever occurred to you that if I did, I would have asked for it? I never needed you to help me, so I never asked. You think the reason I don’t is because I’m arrogant? To think that I’m that shallow-minded...”

“...But it wasn’t enough for you and Professor Callaghan that I work hard.” She suddenly said in a strained voice, as if it hurt her to say it. “You both assumed that, because I don’t do things the way you do, I need help.”

“We were only trying to do what’s best for you-” Tadashi said, still attached to his conviction.

“No.” She retorted snappishly, narrowing her eyes. “You decided what’s best for me. You don’t even know me. I wasn’t unhappy before you forced your way in. Why won’t you let me do what I love?”

It felt like someone had dumped a bucket of cold water over Tadashi’s head.

He saw that San wasn’t wrong. Although he’s not sure she was right either, Tadashi knew that she hit home.

For one, Prof. Callaghan, and most importantly Tadashi himself, hadn’t trusted her decision. Tadashi frankly wasn’t used to being given the aloof treatment. It scared him. When all his connections seemed secure, that one girl turned up and turned a blind eye to him. He took it personal when he shouldn’t have done. So he agreed with the Professor’s scheme and interfered with San’s choice. Instead of trusting her with the reigns, he and the Professor (very similar-minded people) went and adjusted the sails and completely threw her off track. No wonder she was so angry...

Wondering that, Tadashi felt his stand faltering. But he wasn’t about to give up. The hurt of rejection from before still lingered in his heart, even in the light of his new understanding. He frowned. “That doesn’t excuse the way you’ve treated me.”

“Well, it’s not my fault little Prince Charming can’t take a little rejection.” She tersely replied.

Through their confrontations, this girl proved impossible to intimidate. San was still angry. Her mouth formed a tight, stubborn line while her eyes furrowed. Tadashi said nothing more.

Tadashi didn’t return the sentiment. He wasn’t one to take on a grudge easily. But he was feeling very unsure of himself. His emotions and his reason were in conflict. He had a newfound understanding of San’s motives and person, but he was also uneasy. Their bitter clash had left him hesitant in her presence, in a way he’d never been before. If anything’s sure, it was that he was less certain than before where their relationship stands.

It seemed they had been battling each other forever. The pregnant pause now seemed impossible to break. It was both uncomfortable and painful. But just as she was the one to break so many of Tadashi’s rules, San was also the one to break the silence.

“Is that all?” She asked quietly.

He didn’t answer. San took a step back and let out a small, bitter laugh. The sound of it was almost rueful.

“Well, isn’t this flattering?” She said sarcastically. “So, you got what you wanted. This is me, brought out of my shell. In all my secretive, friendless glory. Does it disappoint you?”

He was going to say something, but then changed his mind. He didn’t trust himself to say the right thing at the moment. The situation was already so delicate.

In his confusion San seemed to able to read what was wrong. She shook her head.“I’ll have a word with Professor Callaghan about our little assignment. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you won’t have to force yourself into making friends with me, ever again.”

Then, her cynical expression vanished, and for a moment so did the fervour in her tone. “Sorry to have troubled you for nothing.”

Then, she decidedly turned her back around and strode quickly over to the desk to grab her backpack and coat. He could tell that she was still upset. Despite often taking her time to gather all her books and stationery, she literally shoved them all into her bag and disappeared out of the room, leaving Tadashi to stand alone, feeling particularly empty.

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