Taz didn't know where she was at first. The lights were blinding, and for a second she thought was muerto, in heaven. At least heaven was comfortable, and for a moment she relaxed in the soft, white pillows, not thinking about anything…
And then it all came flooding back to her. The final assault against Kronos, the deserted and smoking remains of Metal Gear, the Autobots trying to mercilessly beat her into the ground, and then Up-
Up. No. Not Up. He couldn't have died, he couldn't have-
Taz shot up out of her bed like a bullet, but dizziness overcame her, and she stumbled to the ground. Looking up, she realized she was in a G.L.E.E hospital room. She also realized that there was an IV stuck in her arm, and that her head, right arm, and her abdomen were heavily bandaged. A metallic cast was on her left leg, and to top it off, she was wearing a itchy white hospital gown.
"Mi dios muerto," she whispered.
"Hey!" A doctor appeared in the doorway, noticing his patient on the ground. "Are you okay, Lieutenant? Why are you on the floor?" The doctor, whose nametag read Dr. Holmes, quickly and carefully helped her up and attempted to lead the stunned Mexican to her bed.
But Taz didn't hesitate before grabbing Dr. Holmes by his shirt collar. "¿Qué pasó? Where ees Commander Up?"
"Wh-what? Commander Up?"
"SI, DE COMMANDER UP, GILIPOLLAS."
"Look, Lieutenant, I'll tell you, just let go of me and calm down!" Dr. Holmes gasped, terrified of what she might do.
Taz glared at him, but released her grip. Reluctantly, she plopped down on the hospital bed, and winced slightly in pain from sitting down too hard.
"Thank you," the doctor sighed with relief. "Now, um, I'll tell you what happened, but please, just-just try not to panic or overreact! I can't have my patients hurting themselves because of what I tell them!"
"No promises," Taz muttered.
"Anyway," Dr. Holmes continued, "a rescue team was sent out to find you and Commander Up. The last they had heard, you two were surrounded at the Metal Gear battle site."
Taz nodded, remembering the smoldering ground, and the bodies of dead rangers scattered around, the scent of burning flesh filling her nostrils. Shuddering, she listened.
"They found you unconscious. Turned out you broke your left leg, received a slight concussion, along with a few deep cuts and stab wounds in your abdomen and right arm. The rescue team medics were able to care for you until you were flown to this hospital, and by the looks of it, you should be completely healed within a week or two!" Dr. Holmes finished, smiling broadly. Too broadly. Like he was guarding a secret.
"What 'bout Up? How ees he?" Taz pressed on. Why had he avoided saying anything about him?
The doctor's smile faded nearly instantly. He sighed, and sat down in a chair beside Taz's bed. "I really shouldn't be telling you this, but…" He stared down at his hands. Taz watched him anxiously.
"The commander was found a few feet away from you. He…" Dr. Holmes swallowed, not wanting to continue. "He… he wasn't dead."
"Den where is 'e now?" Taz was nearly crying with frustration.
"In… the intensive care unit. See, when the rescue team found him, his body was… brutally mangled, particularly on his right side. At… at first they didn't even realize he was still breathing, still alive. Because…" Dr. Holmes paused. "He… he'd been split almost in half… vertically."
"No… n-no." Taz gasped, her eyes widening. It felt like some bastardo had kicked her in the stomach and ripped out her heart. "Por favor… tell me dis ees a joke, please…"
The doctor sighed, and even he looked on the verge of tears himself. "I wish I was, Lieutenant."
Taz couldn't breathe, couldn't think. The shock of the whole event was still seeping slowly into her body. She stared at Dr. Holmes with the saddest look the doctor could recall, opening her mouth and closing it, her face a deathly pale color.
"The commander is undergoing a lot of surgery right now. Our best surgeons are doing everything they can to help him. The right side of his body… may need to be replaced by human-like robotic parts. But there is a very little survival chance. We don't know if he will… make it… through… the night?"
Dr. Holmes trailed off as he saw Taz's face. She was staring at him as though she was going to murder him. It was actually really frightening.
"I want to see 'im." Taz's voice was cool, calm, and deadly. Dr. Holmes wasn't sure if there was any emotion in it at all.
"I… I don't think you should, Lieutenant. You've… you've been through a lot-"
"TAKE ME TO SEE 'IM NOW, YOU HIJA DE PUTA!" Taz suddenly screamed, bolting out of the bed, and the doctor jumped about a foot in the air.
"Okay, okay, just please, calm down and let me help you."
Taz glared at Dr. Holmes, but let him guide her into a wheelchair. The doctor pushed her out of her hospital room and into the bustling hallway. Ten minutes later, they arrived at the ICU on the first floor.
"The commander is in Room Five," Dr. Holmes whispered, pushing Taz to a large, horizontal, clear window. Taz sucked in her breath, for Room Five was infamous for being where Rangers went when they had extremely severe injuries.
Dr. Holmes helped the silent Mexican stand up and led her to the window. Taz took a deep breath, and peered inside.
At least twenty doctors, surgeons, and scientists were gathered around a table in the middle of a large room. Large video screens flashed and blinked, showing heart rate and oxy-gen intake and dead God knows what else. Taz pressed her face up against the glass, searching for a glimpse of Up, just some type of sign that let her know if he was going to be okay-
A female doctor moved, and there he was. Or, at least his face. Up appeared to be sleeping from anesthesia, his normally grey messy hair darkened with blood. His mustache was gone, and it was weird for Taz to see him without it. Another doctor moved, and Taz was able to see the right side of his body. She gasped.
Where there had previously been flesh, blood, and bone, there was now metal and wires. Dr. Holmes hadn't been kidding when he said that Up had been split down the middle. The doctors were attaching a new body to Up. From his shoulder down, the entire right side of his body was completely robotic. Scientists and surgeons were busy monitoring the commander, making sure he was doing alright. The other side of his body was smeared with dry blood. A blanket covered him from the waist down.
Taz was numb, unable to believe it. Hopefully this was all just a nasty sueño, one that she would wake up from soon, and that everything would be fine. Then she and Up would go and shoot some more toasters-
"He's flatlined! He's flatlined!" a doctor suddenly called out. The many people in the room converged to the middle, one carrying a defibrillator. A steady beep rang throughout the room. The wounded Mexican watched in horror as the doctors used the defibrillator and CPR, trying to revive the fallen commander. The heart monitor beeped, faltered, beeped, faltered again, and a weak heartbeat was heard.
Taz couldn't take it. Pushing herself away from the window, she stumbled over to the nearest trashcan, and vomited, sinking down to the floor. She felt the needle of the IV jerk out of her arm, and she whimpered as she began to bleed. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was Dr. Holmes running over to her, calling for a nurse.
~~~~~~~~One Week Later~~~~~~~~
Taz lay in her bed that she had been in for a week, staring blankly at the ceiling. Flowers and cards covered the table beside her, but she barely took notice. Tomorrow, she would be leaving the hospital. But since her broken pierna would take another couple weeks still to fully heal, she would be on temporary leave as a Starship Ranger. Yet what was there to do? The only thing she could even think of doing was visiting Up, who had been comatose since she had seen him.
She heard a knock on her hospital room door. "Entre," she muttered, and a nurse came in.
"Hello, Lieutenant," Nurse Lytle said cheerfully, checking Taz. "How are you feeling today, darling?"
"Well, that's good. Say, I know you've been asking for updates on the Commander Up, and unfortunately," the Southern nurse frowned slightly, "he's still in the coma. I don't really know how he's gonna be, but I heard Dr. Rosenthal say he may come out of it soon."
"Great…" Taz wasn't fazed. Nurse Lytle had been telling her the same dead Goddamn thing for the past few days.
"I'll be back in two hours! Buzz if you need anything!" Nurse Lytle chirped, and she left the room.
Taz turned over on her side, thinking. Up had been in a coma for a week, and Taz had been in the hospital for about a week and a half (she had been out for three days before coming to). She had blacked out after seeing Up nearly die on the operating table, and Dr. Holmes had forbidden her from leaving her hospital room at all. It wasn't like she was going to, anyway. Her entire body felt like mierda. So instead, she asked everyday for updates. Nothing had changed yet.
One thing that worried Taz was that she hadn't shed a tear since hearing the news about Up. She'd normally never cry, but at a time like this, shouldn't she have cried? ¿Cuál fue el problema?
Out of boredom, she decided to watch a movie. Flipping through the channels on her TV, she came across She's All That. It was the ending, and she smiled, remembering the time that she and Up watched it. It was a clichéd movie, but it was one of Up's favorites. And Taz never passed up an opportunity to watch a movie with him. Not even Spiderman 3, which was, in her opinion, the worst movie she'd ever seen.
Taz was discharged from the hospital the next day, but not without a pair of crutches and a promise to Dr. Holmes that she wouldn't overexcite herself. Upon arriving back at her Starship Ranger base, she's greeted by a crowd of admirers. She brushed past them, however. All she wanted is to get back to her room.
She finally breathed once she reached her room. It was over two weeks since she was last there, and nothing changed. The well-worn punching bag's still in the corner, waiting for her to hit it. The photo of her familia she managed to salvage from her home after her quinciñera still is on her bedside table. The first medal she had ever received is still in her drawer. But Taz only had eyes for her bed. She sighed happily as she sunk into the covers, and dozed off sometime later.
In her dream, she's back at the Metal Gear battlefield, shooting up tons of robots, Up beside her. They're both yelling a wordless battle cry as robots fall at their feet. And then… two Autobots flank her, pulling her away from Up. They're laughing a screeching, metallic, hair-raising laugh, and Taz hears herself yell in pain as they pound her into the ground. A sharp crack lets her know that they broke her leg.
"Taz! No!" Up's running to her, a look of distress and horror on his face. Taz lifts her head to look at him, but she dies a little inside as she sees Optimus Prime rising up behind him. She tries to scream, tries to warn him of the impending danger, but it's too late, and her commander is lifted into the air. The last thing she sees before her nightmare is over is a circular buzz saw flying straight for him.
Taz jolted up, her scream still in her throat. The bed was soaked from sweat, and her lamp somehow ended up on the floor. It's my fault, she thought. If I hadn't led my guard down, Up would be okay. It's my fault he's dying.
And then Taz lost it. Ignoring the crutches, she hopped out of the bed, and hobbled over to the punching bag. Screaming with fury, guilt, pain, and countless other emotions, she punched the mierda out of the bag for a long time. She punched it until her knuckles started to bleed, until her voice gave out, until she could punch no more.
A long time later, she sank to the floor, utterly exhausted. "Damn jou," she gasped, her voice hoarse and weak from screaming. "Damn jou, Up. DAMN JOU AN' JOUR BIG DAMN HEART!"
It was then that Taz finally felt the hot tears cascading down her face.
"I'd like to visit de Commander Up, por favor." Taz stood in front of the receptionist's desk, crutches in her hands, a backpack on her back. She wore her red bandana (a gift from Up), a grey T-shirt, and her camo pants.
"Are you a friend or relative?"
"It does not matter. I… I'm all he's got, I'm hees mejor amiga."
The receptionist's eyes softened. "Of course. Room 158."
Cautiously, Taz entered Up's room. It looked the same as hers did: white and boring. The only difference was that there was a heart monitor, and it was the only sign of movement in the room.
Sitting down in the chair next to Up's bed, Taz studied the comatose commander. His heart monitor was steady, and the beeps filled the otherwise silent room. His chest rose and fell, the only visible part of him moving. The blanket covered him right up to his chest, and on his right side, his mechanical arm lay limply at his side with a flesh-like hand. It scared the Mexican to see her best friend so weak, so helpless.
"H-hey, Up," Taz muttered. "How… how are jou today?"
No response. Just the steady heartbeat.
"Up, I need to tell jou somethin'," the Lieutenant muttered. Reaching forward, she took his robotic right hand into her own hands. "G-Gracias. Th-thank you."
She could feel the tears welling up again, and it's all she could do to fight them off.
"Jou… jou saved me a' de near cost of jour life. ¿Por qué? Jou dead Goddamn fool! Look what happened to jou!" And the tears flowed freely as she spoke to a man that would possibly never wake up.
"Jou… jou… idiota! If-if jou don't wake up at all, I swear I'll… I'll kill jou! Jou better not leave me, Up. Jou… jou can't leave me, 'cause… I need jou."
Taz then climbed into the small hospital bed, curling herself against Up. Her tears stained his hospital gown.
"Please… hold on," she murmured. "Por favor… "
It was about an hour later that a Dr. Rosenthal found the Lieutenant sleeping against the Commander, having cried herself to sleep. He gently woke her up, and told her it would be best if she went home. Taz didn't have the corazon to argue.
The third day Taz visited, she brought her copy of Don Quixote. "Jou might remember dis, Up. Ees the book I was reading when de bullies made fun of me for bein' pequenã. Den jou came and jou put me on jour back, and den we chased dose idiotas into de dumpster."
Taz grinned, remembering the looks on the bullies' faces. She waited for him to chuckle, but there wasn't a response. It's all right, however. She's not expecting one.
For a couple hours, she read some passages in Spanish from the book to him. A few times, she even imagined him to be listening.
When she visited for the sixth time, Taz didn't really do anything except sit and watch him, and occasionally talk to him. She bowed her head with frustration, holding his hand.
"Dammit, Up, when jou gonna come back? Jou remember de first thing jou taught me? Get back up. So get back! Get up! GET BACK UP, DAMMIT! 'Cause… jou have to…" And another visit turned into another crying fit, and Dr. Rosenthal had to escort her out again.
During the tenth visit, they watched the movie The Karate Kid. Up liked the one with Jackie Chan and Jayden Smith. Taz narrated the movie for him, giving him a scene-by-scene description:
"Aw, Up, here's de part when de chico gets his ass kicked real bad!... De chaqueta goes on! De chaqueta goes off!... Oooh, now he's een un gran problema!... " And so on. When it's the end, Taz could almost hear Up cheering for the kid like he usually would.
Taz visited Up thirteen times. Sometimes she would sit and chat with him, informing him of what was going on in the world. Other times, she would bring a book or a movie that he really liked. And other times, she would sit and cry angrily with him, pissed that he hadn't woke up yet.
Three weeks and four days into his coma, Taz received a video-phone call from the hospital. She didn't pick it up at first because she was fearful of what she might hear. But she answered anyway.
"Are you the Lieutenant Taz?"
"De one an' only."
"It's… it's the Commander. He's awake. He's out of the coma."
A split second later, the line was disconnected. Taz grabbed her crutches and hobbled over to the hospital as fast as her legs could take her. For a moment, she wished she was on Up's back. He could run faster than the two of them combined.
Pushing past the receptionist, Taz limped over to Room 158. Putting her hand on the button that opened the door, she hesitated for a moment. Was Up really awake? Would he be any different? There was only one way to find out. Taking a deep breath, she slowly entered the room.
Dr. Rosenthal, Dr. Holmes and a couple other doctors stood around Up's bedside, monitoring his breathing and other functions. The commander was propped up in his bed, eyes open, staring into space, answering questions slowly. It startled Taz to see his blue eyes and hear his drawling voice again after so long.
"Up…" she whispered. The doctors turned at the sound of her voice.
"Lieutenant, we are sorry, but you can't be here right now," Dr. Holmes said, and took a few steps toward her, but a gravelly voice stopped him.
"Please… let her stay."
"Commander, you woke up merely an hour ago, it may not be the best time to see anyone-"
"Let her stay, dead Godammit." Up's voice was firm, yet weak. Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. Holmes exchanged a glance. The latter sighed before turning to Up.
"She may sit quietly in here while we finish checking you. Then she can visit with you."
Up nodded, content. Taz took a seat in the corner, silently watching as the doctors examined the Commander, explaining to him how his new body functioned, and how his life would be now. Some while later, they left.
Taz limped over to the seat next to Up's bed. Sitting down carefully, she gave a weak smile, trying very hard to not throw herself onto his bed and start yelling or crying. "Um. Hey, Up. How… how jou doin'?"
"Ehh… I've… I've had worse," Up grunted, glancing over at his Lieutenant.
"Bullshit." Taz glared at him. "Stop puttin' on a dead Goddamn brave face. How are jou, really?"
"…Terrible," Up admitted. "I've just woken up from a three-week coma, my mustache is gone, I've got half a new body, and…" he swallowed sadly, "I ain't got no balls."
"… Wait, ¿qué?" The Mexican turned to look at him, her eyes huge. "Creo qué you are plenty ballsy! You are de toughest Commander I know-"
"No, no, Taz. I… literally don't have any balls. When… when the doctors first came in here after I woke up, they explained that while they were trying to reattach my body… they couldn't reattach my… erm… y'know…" he looked down.
Taz put her hand over his robotic one. "I… I'm really sorry, Up." It was hard to think of something to say to comfort a man who had no balls.
Up sighed. "Don't worry. And I'm sorry too, Taz. I wasn't fast enough to save you from the Autobots. Those damn bastards broke your leg," he noted, looking at her crutches.
"Oh, ees nothing, Up. And why jou apologizin'? Ees not your fault." It's mine, she added silently. It's my fault you're like this.
"A good Commander always looks after his Rangers. And I've failed as a Commander."
"¡Falso!" Taz nearly shouted. "Jou are the toughest son of a bitch I know! Who else takes down an eagle wi' their bare hands? Or make onions cry?"
"I know… but… you wouldn't have been injured if I had been more careful. I… I worry a lot for your safety, Taz."
"And I worry for jours, you idiota!" Taz was almost crying. "I… I thought I was gonna lose jou when I saw jou in de coma every time I visited! I was worried jou wouldn't come back! ¿Por qué? 'Cause I need jou, jou damn fool! I… jou… jou don't know how scared I was…"
Taz faded away, as she was crying and unable to make coherent sentences. Up was about crying by this point as well.
Patting a small space next to him, Up motioned for her to climb in the bed with him. Carefully, the Mexican woman climbed in, minding her broken leg. She settled down next to him on his left side, her head resting on his shoulder. Up let her cry for a while, and even a few tears slid down his cheeks.
"You know," Up whispered, "I… I could sorta hear you while I was in my coma."
"Really?" Taz sniffled.
"I think so. When I was in the coma, it felt sorta like I was floatin' in darkness. I couldn't see, couldn't move, couldn't do nothin'. But sometimes I could hear people talkin'. Sometimes someone would talk in Spanish. But… there was a lot of cryin' as well, and… I really want to help whoever was cryin', cause no one should have to cry that badly." Up looked at Taz, who had stopped crying a little.
"I was scared, Up. I… I never want to see jou like that again. I saw jour heart stop beatin' when de doctors, surgeons and scientists were puttin' jour robot body on jou-"
"My heart gave out?"
"Ya, and then I fainted."
"…Wow… you okay?"
Taz glared at him. "Stop askin' if I'm okay. I'm a lot better now that you're awake."
Up cracked a smile, the first one Taz had seen in a while. "Well, I'm feelin' a lot better knowin' that you're better."
Taz grinned. "Bueno. Now don't jou go riskin' jour ass to save mine for a while, ¿comprende?"
Up chuckled. "Fine. But only," and his face was solemn for a moment, "if you stay with me here for a while. I missed you for three weeks, and a man can't go that long without seeing his best friend now, can he?"
And with that, he wrapped his arms around Taz, bringing her closer to him. Taz relaxed, letting the Commander hold her. She hadn't felt so happy in a while.
They lay together in the hospital bed in silence, clinging to each other, unwilling to let go. Between the two of them, they'd seen countless things that no human should ever have to see in their lifetime.
And of course they had both gone a little crazy/insane from it. Who wouldn't?
Neither of them knew what the future would hold. The Robot Wars were practically over, so what was next?
But the most important thing was this: Taz and Up had each other, and for them, that was all they needed to make it through. They weren't alone.