Disclaimer: I own nothing. Not even the maths book that proves Taz was right when she said Calculus was tough. That's borrowed, just like the characters in this story.
Well, I put this up on Tumblr aaages ago (by ages I probably mean about two weeks, but that's neither here nor there) and I thought I may as well put it up here too so all my fics can be in the one place. There's 3 chapters of it already up there and I've written nearly 5 which I hope to get on here soon.
This starts off during Starship but the bulk of it will take place afterwards. Hope you like. :)
A part of Taz knew what he was going to say the instant his hands touched her shoulders; the instant he pulled her to the side to allow Tootsie to 'handle' MegaGirl. She felt her muscles stiffen. If he dared, after everything that had just happened…
'Actually Taz,' Up's arm had found its way around her shoulders, and it took every ounce of her willpower not to shake it off- and then probably break it too. 'Maybe, um, I dunno, maybe you and me could, uh…oh, I don't know, just go watch a movie or somethin'…'
Taz shot him a disgusted look. If it had been the old days, she wouldn't have hesitated to accept. If it had been the real Up, she would have said yes. But this man was not Up. This man, with his 'naps' and 'boo-boos', who whined into a hand mirror in a pathetic attempt to boost his self-esteem, just wasn't him. Up had gone, and left her with this stranger who only looked like him.
'You know, like old times?' the man-who-wasn't- Up persisted, and she could sense the hint of desperation climbing into his voice. It didn't sway her.
Don't you dare hablar about 'old times'. Jou were not there in 'old times'. Jou are not Up.
She folded her arms and turned her head away; she couldn't even look at him- she couldn't trust herself not to kill him, right there and then.
'Throw on one of our favourites, like, oh, I know…the Karate Kid? You know, the good one! The Jackie Chan one!'
Taz could feel her folded hands balling up into fists. 'No,' she spat. Up blinked, uncomprehending, unsure he'd heard right.
'NO!' she repeated forcefully, throwing her hands up. 'I'm going to go work out. Jou know, in case any other killer robots try to kill us? And I'm de only one who can kill dem.' She turned, leaving without a second thought.
Ees true, she thought, fuming all the way to the gym. I am de only one who could kill those robots now. Dese idiotas on dis mission- jou would think dey'd never seen a gun before. And jou, Up…jou're beyond all hope.
Taz stood in front of the punching bag, feet apart, poised in determination as she delivered blow after blow, imagining it was Up standing there and growling insults under her breath.
'What is wrong wid jou, jou soft lil son-of-a-bitch? What have jou become? Hijo de puta! I thought maybe jou were still in dere somewhere- de real you- I believed in jou when nobody else would, and den jou won't even leave an estupido robot behind! Jou are not Up! Jou are not half de hombre Up was!'
Channelling her rage intoher fists, she increased the force of the punches, sending the bag swinging back and forth on its hinges. If any killer robots had chosen this moment to enter, she would have been sufficiently mad to tear them apart into bits of scrap metal with her bare hands. All her pent up emotions began to surface, releasing themselves with every hit- not just anger now, but disappointment and hurt too.
Two years she had stuck by him- two years. She hadn't cared about his half-robot body, or his lack of balls, so long as he was still the same tough bastard who'd rescued her, who'd made her what she was today, who she'd harboured an embarrassing crush on for four years. And she'd clung to that hope, no matter how many months passed with him sobbing and whinging and talking about his estupido rehab techniques…the hope that Up- her Up was still in there, just buried deep- he just needed some sort of kick in the right direction and his true self would shine through.
The months had gone by, and it hadn't happened, but she'd clutched at that hope. Up hadn't been on a mission since his famous injury- maybe having a job to do was all he needed- maybe it would jump-start his killer instincts.
The MegaGirl incident had snapped the last of her patience. Him asking how they were feeling after he had single-handedly gotten them into a certain death situation had driven her over the edge. The last shred of hope that Up might return tore itself from her heart, much like the moustache she had torn from his face.
Up was gone. He wasn't coming back- not now, not ever.
Taz turned back to the bag and punched it with renewed vigour.
Commander Up was pacing as Specs entered the command deck, thinking, fingering his moustache and reflecting on the fact that Taz was sore at him.
'You wanted to see me, sir?'
Up spluttered, startled. He'd forgotten he'd called Specs in, engrossed in his own thoughts.
'Oh, yeah. Specs. I did. Been a heck of a day, hasn't it, Specs? Almost getting' eaten by a giant spider…that must have been pretty scary….' Not to mention how scary it was when he thought they were all going to go off and leave him there. Not to mention how scary it was to comprehend that Taz mightn't like him any more- or may never again.
'In retrospect I suppose it was, sir, but at the time I simply found it scientifically fascinating.'
'Bullsh*t!' Up snapped. He couldn't have this! Even geeky Specs was braver than him nowadays. What had he become? He tried. Heck, it wasn't like he didn't try to be tough- he'd feel the old familiar surge of anger and bravery, he'd start to speak…and then he'd remember his robot right side, the fact that he had no balls, the fact that his ego all these years hadn't been justified. He wasn't invincible. He wasn't indestructible. He'd built up the vain idea over the years that he was strong, he was tough, he was the Commander Up, and nothing could kill him.
But something almost had, and he'd had to face the reality that he was just as puny and weak as everyone else.
Worse than that, Taz still wanted him to be the indestructible Up of the past- and he just couldn't do that any more.
A part of his mind was still focusing on this as he bounced the bespectacled ranger on his lap, letting his soft self speak for him and issue forth platitudes about her being 'tired' and having a 'tour of duty off in dreamland.' He hated himself for even thinking childish crap like that, much less saying it in front of people, but for some reason he just couldn't' stop himself. He only absently noticed the way Krayonder looked at the sleeping ranger as he carried her away. He likes her. I know that look.
Up sat down, shaking his head, and turning his full attention back to his own dilemma.
'Um, hello sir…' Not a minute on his own.
'Why if it isn't Bug, my oldest friend!' As it happened, Bug was one of the few people on board the ship he didn't mind seeing right now. Bug didn't think of him as a failure. Bug was asking him for help. Nobody asked him for help any more- they usually went to Taz. Just another sign of what a failure he was.
'Commander Up…what if someone likes you… a lot… but they only like you because everything they know about you is a lie?'
Mmhmm. He could relate to that.
'So this is about me…' Up didn't realise he'd said the words out loud. 'And how I've been lying to you…' to the crew, to Taz, to everyone, by pretending he was still a tough son of a bitch, by pretending he could still be the Commander he used to.
Which he wasn't.
'No, not exactly…you wanna talk about that instead?'
The young ranger's offer was so inviting. Up hadn't really had a chance to just talk about what happened with anyone. Everyone was always pushing him to get back on his feet, to keep moving forward, away from the incident- he'd never really had the opportunity to step back and look at everything that had happened, not even in his therapy sessions. He found himself nodding vigorously.
'Yeah. I do.'
And before he knew what was what he was sitting on Bug's lap, spilling his guts about how he wasn't the same as he used to be, about his famous injury, and sobbing-actually sobbing, dammit! Weeping in the arms of a stranger like he was little more than three years old!
'Up, Up, I don't think your problem is that big of a deal!'
The words stunned him enough to stop crying and stare at Bug. 'What the heck are you talkin' about, soldier?'
Bug immediately launched into a detailed description of the giant mother spider and her vicious maternal instincts- boy, being raised on Bug World had made him think up some creepy analogies, that was for sure. But as Up listened, he began to see the young ranger's point.
Could it be possible to care about stuff and be strong?
'You need to find a way to kill…' Bug finished triumphantly, 'with your heart.'
Well, that certainly gave Up a lot to consider.
Up thought about what the newest ranger had said long after he had left. Kill with his heart. Kill with his heart. Well, that was a contradiction in terms. But killing for love…now that was an idea. He knew he'd do anything for Taz- heck, he had done anything for Taz- he'd leapt in between Taz and that autobot to get her out of trouble, he'd taken that circular buzz-saw to save her. And he'd do that again, if he had to- newfound fears or not- his love for Taz was that strong.
Since when did he 'love' Taz? Since when did he start even liking her in that way? He'd just admitted it to Bug without even thinking.
He couldn't 'love' Taz. She was his Little Friend. He'd always looked out for her, in a kind of older-brother way. He remembered the day he'd brought her home, a stray in a nice dress, who had, in her confusion, mistaken him for a robot and hit him with her high-heeled shoe. He remembered when he'd sat up all night with her, trying to explain that all she had to do to find the minimum height was make the first derivative equal zero, trying not to get frustrated with her because calculus came so easily to him and not to her. He'd remembered thinking at the time that she was like his kid sister- and she was, in almost every way, but somehow the label 'sister' and the name 'Taz' wouldn't fit together in his mind.
You just didn't get caught gazing aimlessly into space while watching your sister work out, trying not to think about how good she looked in a singlet. You didn't spend the whole evening huffing and wondering why you were jealous because your sister went out with Junior, and then secretly celebrating when it turned out she'd had a horrible time and they wouldn't be going on another date.
You just didn't think about those sorts of things if you thought of someone as your sister. So instead, he'd pushed back the feelings he'd thought he was experiencing and called her his Little Friend. That label would do. It meant he cared about her, without hinting at anything else.
But now, in his vulnerability, somehow he'd forgotten to shut the door of his mind, and those repressed feelings had come rushing out. What was worse, they'd had to manifest themselves at a time when Taz was mad at him.
Up didn't honestly think she'd meant all those things she'd said. She didn't really think he'd lost all of himself in the Robot Wars, did she? She didn't really think there was no hope for him, did she? Taz got frustrated easily. Taz said a lot of things she didn't mean.
But if she was right…well, Up didn't want to risk it. He had to get over this 'soft' thing. He had to get back to normal, no matter what it took. Anything for Taz.
Taz stalked towards her quarters, the accumulation of sweat from a solid three hour workout dripping from her hair and down her forehead. She'd overdone it, her temples were pounding and she badly needed some water.
'Hey there.' She felt her shoulders tense up again at the familiar accent. Leave me alone.
No such luck.
'I have a headache,' she replied, not looking at him. 'In my head.'
'Aw, Taz, that's too bad,' Up's hand was on her shoulder again. She shook it off with a growl.
'Don't jou dare pity me. Jou are not entitled. I do not feel pain.' Not true, but when she did feel it she didn't react. 'I am going to walk it off.'
She stalked towards the door, away from him.
'Taz?' the voice called after her. She paused.
'You didn't really mean all that stuff yeh said, right? Back there on Bug World?'
Taz sighed and turned. 'I look at jou, I see someone who could be so much more. Is such a waste.'
It was an answer, but it didn't assuage his worries. Up watched her leave sadly. She really did think he was a failure overall.