If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
- Emily Dickinson
Amazing art for this fic by florbe-triz on tumblr!
I can't handle how cute it is and absolutely perfect! Thank you forever, darling!
(Posted here with the artist's permission: Do NOT repost.)
Saitama is out of bed a little before sunrise. He has just enough time to have one cup of coffee and put on his boots before the sun starts breaking over the land. As soon as the sky is light enough, he tugs a pair of gloves on, grabs his bag, and heads out into the forest.
Normally he would take a little more time to just enjoy the morning and eat breakfast while the birds sing. But last night there was a storm with a lot of strong winds, and that means he has important work to do.
The air is still a little chilly when Saitama heads out, and the ground is damp from the rain, but the sunlight is already coming through the trees and starting to warm everything up. Saitama follows his usual path into the woods, carefully scanning the ground as he goes and surveying the damage done to the trees. All night, he'd listened to the thunder, the gusting wind, and the pouring rain, imagining what he'd find in the morning. The storm doesn't seem to have done as much harm as he thought it would. He's familiar enough with these woods that every broken branch is obvious to him, but most of the fallen limbs were dead to begin with, so it's no great loss.
As he goes, Saitama stops to inspect every tree that he knows to be occupied. There's a family of red squirrels that seem to be completely safe. He says good morning to them and moves along. In the next tree --a tall and sturdy beech -- there is a nest of great grey shrikes that looks intact. Nearby, close to the base of a maple, a ground nest of pipits remains undisturbed. Saitama catches sight of one of the birds hopping along in a businesslike way. He follows its example, nodding to it with a smile and continuing on his way.
So far, his little friends are safe and sound. Saitama can hear the song of a bush warbler calling to him as he makes his rounds through the forest. Hooo- hokekyo, pi pi pi! He can't help but smile fondly, wondering if he'll catch sight of the little bird that he rescued last year. He knows that technically, it is impossible to tell which bird is singing, but he also knows that it is his little bird. Its wing should be so much stronger now, as if it had never been broken in the first place.
After almost an hour of walking and checking up on his little neighbors, Saitama finally comes across some real damage. A great old oak tree, broken in two, with half of its massive green branches slumped against the ground. Saitama whistles at the sight, saddened to see years of living history now destined to die.
Then he hears faint peeping noises, and Saitama's heart leaps in his chest. It sounds like he’s needed.
Saitama approaches the fallen tree cautiously, listening with intent, eyes scanning the ground. He finds the fallen nest quickly enough, and two nestlings on the ground near it. This is what he had thought about all night, while the rain was pelting his windows and the wind was howling. How many nests would fall? How many broken branches, how many little broken bones?
How many could he save?
“Don’t worry, I'm here to help,” Saitama says softly, although he knows only his actions will be understood. He sets his bag on the ground and takes out a soft cloth and begins to gather up the fallen baby birds, cradling them close to his chest to keep them warm. There are four altogether and once he’s satisfied that there are no more to be found, Saitama looks them over more closely while he thinks about what to do.
They all appear to be uninjured, which is a great stroke of luck. It means that he won't have to worry about nursing any of them back to health. It's mostly a myth that birds would abandon their young after being handled by humans. In fact, the best thing for Saitama to do now is to replace the nest into the tree and wait for the mother to return for them. But in this case, their tree has been so destroyed, he is a little unsure if it'll be that simple. Still, one can only hope for the best.
“You'll be okay,” Saitama promises. “I'm here now.”
One by one, Saitama tucks the little birds into their nest. They are noisy, but they calm down a little when he wraps the entire nest up in his cloth, bundling up the ends like a vagabond’s sack. It's silly, but it's the simplest way he's found to carry a nest up into a tree without crushing it and allowing him to keep both hands free - wrapped up in cloth, with the ends clenched between his teeth. He grabs a bundle of thick twine from his bag, puts that into his pocket, bites down securely onto the cloth, and begins to climb.
This is always a little dangerous, always a little reckless. For the most part, of course, he doesn't care. Nothing makes him feel more useful than to help these little lives. And nothing makes him feel more alive than climbing trees. It's been his habit ever since he was a boy, so he's confident in his ability. But this tree… this tree is more dangerous to climb than most. The trunk is splintered in half, and as he passes the break, Saitama can smell the scent of fresh wood and sap. More than that, there is a distinct charred smell, and sure enough, in the midst of the stark white insides of the broken tree, there is a blackened path of burned wood. This tree was struck by lightning during the storm. In a matter of seconds, something so strong, that took decades to grow, was toppled. It makes him feel humbled, to remember the destructive forces of nature.
The tree itself had forked into two very large branches, and then smaller branches on from there. One of those mighty branches was what had broken and now lay half twisted-free from its twin. The other still continued on, sturdy but lonely. This is what Saitama continues to climb. He doesn't go much higher, only up to the next safe branch, shaded with plenty of foliage. Then he manages to sit against the gentle slope of the branch, and steadies himself there. He takes the twine, out of his pocket, gently frees the nest from his makeshift cloth sack, and positions the nest into the crook of a branch and ties it there, careful to keep the little birds away from the twine while he works. Once it’s pulled tight, there’s no risk of them tangling themselves in it.
“Be good,” Saitama advises, resting for a moment to enjoy the air, and the view, and the little chirps from his tiny companions. He will be keeping an eye on them for a while afterwards, to make sure their mother finds them again. As long as they don’t knock themselves out of the nest in the meantime, they should be okay.
With a vague sense of sadness, Saitama wonders if the tree will keep living. Perhaps it can survive this damage, and heal, and the other half can still thrive. But even if it begins to die, the tree should last long enough to give the birds time to grow up. If he needs to cut it down later, he'll just have to make sure that the nest is empty by then. There is only so much he can do.
Once he’s ready, Saitama tucks his cloth away and climbs down again. Another good deed accomplished. It makes him feel happy, like he's made a real difference in the world, even if it's one that no one will ever really notice.
On solid ground again, Saitama grabs his bag and walks around the massive fallen half of the tree, looking carefully before moving on, in case he missed anything, and that's when he sees it. A dull glint of metal, hidden under the thick layer of foliage created by the branches.
Curiosity is the first thing that comes to Saitama’s mind, but then underneath that, a touch of suspicion and anger. He has been through these woods hundreds of times. He has lived here for years, with no one nearby, nothing man-made for miles, save his own house, and a couple remote neighbors. They would never leave something like this in his woods.
Saitama moves closer, and on an afterthought, grabs a fairly thick and mostly straight stick to use. If there are intruders here in his woods, he will make it clear that this… this kind of thing is not welcome, whatever it is. He will dispose of it with great prejudice, whether it is abandoned scrap metal waste, or worse, a hunter’s trap…
He uses the end of his stick to push the branches aside. What's revealed isn't a hunter’s trap at all. Instead, it is a metal hand.
For several long seconds, Saitama is so surprised, he can't even process what it means. He hasn't seen a cyborg since he lived in the city, and he certainly never thought he’d see one again. Or even parts of one, because as soon as Saitama pushes back the branches blocking his view, he realizes that the metal hand isn't attached to anything.
A little breath escapes him, and Saitama has to frown at himself, because it isn't a breath of relief, but a little sigh of disappointment. It's just scrap metal after all. For a second, his mind had gone wild with imagination. Why would a cyborg be out here anyway? That wouldn't make any sense. But it would’ve been interesting, for sure.
And then he hears a noise. It's so soft, that if Saitama wasn't used to searching for sounds, it would’ve been lost amongst the low ambiance of the forest, the birds singing to each other, the leaves rustling in the breeze. But he does hear it. Barely audible, but completely out of place. Mechanical, like a low whir.
The branches are so thick, and so low, Saitama realizes they could easily be covering something else. Like the fallen nest and baby birds, the detached hand must not have gone far from its body. Saitama plunges into the foliage, pulling aside branches as he starts truly searching. Not even a few feet away, Saitama spies more metal, and uncovers the rest of the cyborg. The sight of it makes Saitama go a little breathless. This cyborg is just as scorched as the tree, with a few visibly fried wires, and a set of gold eyes staring lifelessly at him.
“Poor guy,” Saitama exhales, both intrigued and heavy-hearted by the discovery of the body. “How did you get all the way out here on your own?”
The cyborg does not answer. Saitama never expected him to, as ruined as he is. It's a shame, because he looks as if he were well made. He looks young, even - crafted with a beautiful face, light blonde hair, and eyes that are somehow so endearing, despite how inhuman they should be, with gold irises set against inky black.
Saitama is aware of that soft sound still faintly present, like the fan of a computer. But somehow it doesn't sound nearly as healthy. Some part of the cyborg may still be running, and it's eyes may be unnervingly fixed on Saitama, but it is otherwise completely motionless. Dead. This cyborg will never function again, he’s sure of it. It’s almost strange in a way. It gives Saitama the same empty feeling in his heart as when one of the creatures he tries to save doesn't pull through.
“I'll take care of you,” Saitama promises softly, although he isn't sure what he means by that, or what he should do. Cyborgs were always considered machines as far as Saitama knew. What little organic parts they had were cloned and soulless. He'd never really come into contact with them enough to give it much thought, but seeing this one somehow makes it personal. There's something eerie about just leaving the kid here.
Burial is the only thing that comes to mind. Digging a grave for something so large will be a chore, and a very unpleasant one, but it instinctively feels wrong to do anything less. Even an artificially created life should be honored. He'll see to it.
Then, to his shock, the cyborg's eyes fall shut at his words, as if in relief. Its mouth moves slowly, lips tugging slightly into the barest resemblance of a pained smile before smoothing out again, as if the effort was too much.
“Th...ank… you…” the words are whispered so soft and painfully slow, for a second Saitama wonders if he only imagined it spoke at all. It doesn’t matter. Without another thought, Saitama lurches forward and drags the cyborg out from under the fallen tree.
Saitama lifts one heavy metal arm and slings it over his shoulder, then grabs onto the cyborg and lifts him into his arms with all of his strength. He's heavy, a lot heavier than Saitama is used to carrying, but he can manage this. And when he feels a grip tighten onto his shirt, he knows he isn't imagining anything.