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Salvaged

Chapter Text

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.)

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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.

x

Chapter Text

“Hey, are you okay?”

Maybe it’s a foolish question, but Saitama isn’t sure what to think, what to do to help. He managed to carry the cyborg out of the woods and into his home, but when Saitama finally lays him down on the couch, its metal limbs are heavy and limp. Saitama has to arrange him into a comfortable position, propping its blonde head up against the arm of the couch.

It seems easiest to just ask. Animals can’t tell anyone what’s wrong, so this should be a luxury that Saitama usually doesn’t have. But there’s no answer. Which means something is wrong, obviously, but aside from the vague and useless conclusion of, 'he’s broken', Saitama doesn’t know exactly what the problem is or how to fix it.

If it were a bird, or a squirrel, or a rabbit, or even a fox, Saitama would know exactly how to look for injury, and know how to treat any broken bones, wounds, infection, or hunger. But with a cyborg he hasn't got a clue. This isn't flesh and blood, this is advanced technology and he's completely out of his depth.

Saitama does all he can think to do... which is try to keep his hands busy.

The cyborg is dirty, covered with dried mud from lying on the ground all night during the rain and scorch marks from the lightning strike. It's wearing what looks like the remains of some standard uniform, probably from one of the companies that mass produce these things. But the shirt covering its torso is badly burned and torn apart, and what’s left of it doesn’t have any obvious identifying marks.

Civil workers, or cyborgs otherwise employed for basic labor for the government, usually wear uniforms of certain colors, with large, bold lettering that states clearly what city they’re from, and what department they work with. Most even have their job titles printed on their uniforms as well.

In the nearest city, Saitama knows that cyborgs employed for office work wear blue, and those who work outside, like in construction jobs, wear green. In bigger cities, there are more specific positions to fill, and more colors. Red for medical workers, black for law enforcement, yellow for public safety. So in theory, even if the lettering was obscured, one could just glance at the bright color of a cyborg’s uniform and know where it belonged.

But this one isn’t the same. Its clothes are a dull greyish-green color, and if there was ever any information printed on its shirt, it had to have been small and discreet to start with, because there isn’t anything left to see.

It’s… odd. But for now, it doesn’t matter.

Saitama grabs a damp cloth and starts trying to clean the cyborg off, thinking it might allow him to at least figure out the extent of the damage done, even though it won’t really help. He’s not a mechanic. He’s not a scientist, or an engineer, or a doctor, or anything remotely useful. He’s just a guy who likes to save animals as a hobby. But cleaning him up can’t do any more harm. Right? After all, if the cyborg was out in the rain all night, a slightly damp cloth can’t be much of a bother.

“How did you get all the way out here?” Saitama questions softly, while he rubs dirt off of the cyborg’s chest plates.

Saitama honestly isn’t expecting an answer. The question is more of a habit than anything else. He’d be embarrassed to ever admit it, but he talks to the animals a lot. All the time, actually. They never answer, of course. At least not with words. This is the first time he actually has a patient who should be able to answer him. But the cyborg still says nothing. It doesn’t even attempt to speak. It just watches him.

Saitama isn’t sure whether to be relieved or worried.

On one hand, he’s never been good with conversation, so it’s just as well. Silence is fine.

On the other hand, it’s not a good sign. The cyborg’s power is running so low, Saitama keeps expecting him to cease functioning at any moment.

The thing makes very little movement, so it’s almost hard to tell if it’s still running.

Every time Saitama starts to suspect that the cyborg is finally lifeless, those strange gold and black eyes blink again. Slowly. So slowly.

Every time its eyes close, it feels as if they might never open again, but then they do, and they focus on his face again. Always watching him, no matter where he is. It’s the only sign that the cyborg is still coherent.

Saitama would almost find it unnerving to be stared at like this, but the cyborg’s face is so placid. Saitama knows he shouldn’t read emotions that aren’t there, but he can’t help but feel like it’s thankful to be out of the woods. To be saved.

“Crazy,” Saitama mutters to himself. He scrubs a little faster at the cyborg’s chest, a little more brusque, his face pinching in a frown. Those damn eyes keep watching him. He looks like a kid, for crying out loud. Who had to go and make a cyborg look so pitiful anyway?

“Your makers weren’t very smart, to program you to wander out into the woods where there’s no one around to take care of you,” Saitama scolds. “During a storm like that, no less! You got yourself hit by lightning! Damn fool. You’re lucky I found you.”

The cyborg’s mouth twitches slightly, and then once again there’s this strange smile on his face. His lips are barely curved at all, but it’s definitely a smile.

“Why are you smiling?!” Saitama blurts out, patting his hand against the cyborg’s face to make him stop, but if anything he seems to smile a little more.

It’s such a strange expression, not quite happiness. It’s almost as if he finds Saitama to be the one who is odd.

Geez, what’s with this guy?

“Hey, be serious! I don’t know how to fix you,” Saitama says, starting to feel a little desperate. “You need to tell me how.”

The smile slowly fades, artificial muscles going slack again, but the cyborg says nothing. Saitama isn’t even sure he can speak anymore if he wanted to.

“Okay,” Saitama exhales and squares his shoulders decisively. “I’m just gonna… Maybe there’s something that will tell me…” he says aloud, hoping the cyborg will understand.

He slides his hands over cloth-covered metal thighs, trying to feel if there is anything inside of its pockets, and then invades them to make sure nothing is missed. They’re empty. He isn’t even sure what he’s looking for. Do cyborgs carry IDs? An instruction manual? A convenient What-To-Do-If-Your-Cyborg-Is-Struck-By-Lightning emergency pamphlet? A robotics first aid kit?

Saitama even looks over the tattered remains of cloth still clinging to the cyborg’s torso - what used to be a shirt - but there are no identifying tags, no ‘if lost, please call…’ All he does notice is a model number, etched into the metal plating on the left side of its chest and smudged with ash. It’s where his heart would be if he were human. GEN-05. It doesn’t mean anything to him.

With a sigh, Saitama runs a hand over his bare head and tries to think. It’s difficult, with this cyborg’s black eyes still staring at him. Just... watching.

Passive.

It reminds him of the deer he’d found a few years ago that had been wounded and left to die. He hadn’t come across it in time to do anything but try to give it some small comfort in its final moments. Its eyes had been the same - so bright and strangely calm as it watched him, and then... dull.

He doesn’t know much about cyborgs, but he knows he can’t bear the idea of watching these eyes turn glassy and sightless. He can’t do that again.

If the power drains completely, its mechanisms will stop working. The vitals keeping it alive stop working. And then its organic brain starts dying. There is no way to reverse brain damage. Nearly any other part of a cyborg can be replaced or fixed, but not the brain.

By some miracle, this cyborg’s mechanisms are still functioning, but Saitama doesn’t know how much longer. Once they stop, it will die.

The decision is made before Saitama even consciously thinks of it. He snatches his keys, runs outside and starts up his truck. It’s old and not much to look at, but it’s reliable. He leaves the keys in the ignition and runs back inside.

“Stay with me, okay?” Saitama grumbles, bending to pick the cyborg up again.

It’s no easier to lift him than before, but Saitama is no less determined. “I’m going to get you fixed up. If you die on me before then, I’ll be really disappointed in you.”

The cyborg says nothing, but when Saitama sets him in the truck, there’s that stupid, tiny smile on his face again. It disappears before they even pull out of the yard.

Halfway down the road, the cyborg’s eyes fall shut, and they don’t open again.

“Don’t,” Saitama says, putting a hand against the cyborg’s chest as it slumps forward.

There’s a strange chill that grips Saitama, but the metal against his hand is warm, and it’s not a residual heat. If he focuses, he can feel a faint vibration, one that isn’t from the road.

The mechanisms inside of the cyborg are still running. For now.

“Don't die on me. Don’t be an asshole,” Saitama says, shaking his head in refusal. He keeps his eyes on the road, his jaw clenched tight, and does the only thing that he can... drive faster.

x

Chapter Text

There’s only one person Saitama can think to go to in this situation – Doctor Kuseno.

Kuseno is one of the few neighbors that Saitama actually has. Well, human neighbors, at any rate.

Like Saitama, the old man lives in a rural area outside of town, but the doctor is much closer to civilization than he is, and there are several miles of woods between their houses.

Most of the time, Saitama wishes he were more remote, too far away for anyone to reach. Today is one of the few exceptions. He can’t help but curse how long it takes to get through the narrow dirt roads. In the grand scheme of things, it’s only a few minutes of travel, especially at the reckless speed he’s going, but every minute wasted is too much time. Since when is this road so long? He needs to get there already. Now. Now, now!

When he finally arrives at the doctor’s home, Saitama starts worrying if his luck will be bad, and it will be the one day when Doctor Kuseno isn’t at home. But before he even stops the engine, the old man is peering out of his screen door to greet him.

“Doctor Kuseno!” Saitama jumps out of the driver’s seat without waiting for a reply and goes to retrieve the cyborg. He doesn’t even shut his door behind him. He can’t focus on anything else. Is the cyborg still alive?

To the old man’s credit, he seems to immediately realize the situation and not waste any time.

"How badly is he injured?" Doctor Kuseno asks, suddenly standing at Saitama's side.

“I don’t know,” Saitama says, and then huffs out a laugh that isn’t humorous. “I found him in the woods. He was struck by lightning, I think. When I found him, he still had some energy, but on the way here he just… stopped.” The last word catches strangely in his throat, but Saitama puts it down to annoyance. He hates when he makes the effort to help something, and it all goes to waste.

Kuseno steps closer, laying his hand on the metal plating of the cyborg’s chest. He’s quiet for several long seconds. Saitama can barely stand the silence.

“Hm!” the doctor says at last, in a tone that is entirely too pleased. “He’s not dead. Not yet, anyway. His energy is too low, so he's gone into sleep mode."

Sleep mode? Saitama thinks, staring at the cyborg's limp form with a new sense of respect. It had been so drained it could barely blink its eyes, but it held on long enough to be found and taken to be repaired before losing consciousness. Maybe you're not so stupid after all.

"But it won’t be much longer before his functions shut down," Kuseno continues. Probably-”

“Can you fix him?” Saitama interrupts.

“Ah…” Kuseno hesitates. “Well, I normally treat people.”

“You specialized in prosthetics and cybernetic enhancements,” Saitama says, squinting at him.

“Yes, but cyborgs are different, lad. More than 90% of his body is machine.”

“So... you can’t help him,” Saitama deadpans. You’re full of crap, is on the tip of his tongue. Nobody cares about one dead cyborg, the same way nobody cares about one injured bird. There’s so many of them. Why does it matter?

“I’ll do whatever I can,” Kuseno assures him, disrupting Saitama’s train of thought. “I just want you to know, I’m not an expert.”

“Ah.” A wave of relief washes over Saitama. He gets it now. “You also claim to be retired, old man, but that never seems to mean anything,” Saitama says with a grin. He hefts the cyborg into his arms again, amused when Kuseno backs out of his way, eyebrows raised. The man is always so surprised by Saitama’s strength. “Where do you want him?”

“Inside, on the table, please,” Kuseno says, all business now. He holds the front door for Saitama to bring his patient inside and then rushes around his home, digging out cases of equipment from his storage room.

It’s almost troubling to know that despite his supposed retirement, Kuseno still has all of his equipment close at hand. But it’s also a great relief. Kuseno has only ever been kind and helpful to Saitama, even without being asked. Saitama doesn’t call anyone a friend, mostly because he feels as if it would be a lie… he wouldn’t really make a good friend to anyone… but if he did have friends, Kuseno would be one of the few.

Saitama lays the cyborg on the doctor’s table. Even with its eyes open before, it was so motionless, Saitama kept becoming convinced it was dead. Now with its eyes shut and body completely limp, it’s eerie to say the least. He finds himself lifting the cyborg’s limbs, arranging him to rest in a more comfortable looking position. Logically, it's probably more for his own peace of mind than anything.

“Is there anything I can do to assist you?” Saitama asks, feeling uncomfortable with doing nothing.

“Ah-” Kuseno’s voice comes from the other end of the hall, still rummaging through his gear. “Yes. It would be helpful to know what his make is, so that I know which tools I need. There should be a model number… they usually put it somewhere obvious, like on the chest, but it might be on his neck, or-”

“Yes, he has one,” Saitama says, leaning forward to find it again. The etching is still dusted with ash, and he wipes his thumb across it, trying to clear it off. “G-E-N, dash zero five?”

“Ah, there’s an old model,” Kuseno comments.

Saitama scrunches his brow, a little offended as he looks down at the cyborg, trying to imagine how anyone could consider this old technology. There’s no one to see, so he puts his hand against the cyborg’s pale cheek. Just for a minute. The synthetic flesh feels almost nicer than the real thing – so soft and sleek. This model was really well made. It’s a shame that something younger than him is already considered ‘outdated’.

“Is that a bad thing?” Saitama asks.

“Not at all!” Kuseno says. “If he were a new one, I wouldn’t have the right parts.” He finally returns, dragging a metal case and an intimidating-looking bundle of wires draped over his shoulder. “He needs power, immediately. Plug this in,” he says, handing Saitama the end of a blue cord.

“Yes,” Saitama takes the cord, and hastens to find an outlet. By the time he plugs it into the wall and returns, the doctor is taking screws out of the cyborg’s chest and opening him up.

Kuseno lets out a long, drawn-out whistle when he manages to pry open the blackened metal plates. The stench of burnt plastic is everywhere, along with something else, like oil. “Incredible. You, my young friend, have managed to get your systems completely fried.”

Saitama’s chest aches in sympathy to see the humanoid body split open like this. “Is it that bad?” he asks, his voice low with thinly veiled disappointment.

“He’ll be fine,” Kuseno says, attaching the ends of the blue cord to something inside of the cyborg. It sparks, making Saitama jump, but Kuseno doesn't even flinch. “Stop worrying so much, you’ll make your hair fall out!”

“Why would I be worried?!” Saitama yells, feeling his face (and scalp) flush red at Kuseno’s playful scolding. “And who are you calling bald?!”

Kuseno laughs openly, which only makes Saitama’s face feel hotter. “Where is his other hand?”

“Huh? Oh… it’s still in the woods where I found him. I forgot to grab it.”

“If you could bring it, that would be best,” Kuseno says, busy at work inside of the cyborg’s chest. There’s a snipping sound, and then he tosses out a handful of melted wires. Suddenly Saitama wonders if what the old man is doing is entirely safe. “The more original parts I can keep, the better.”

“I’ll go get it,” Saitama says. “Don’t electrocute yourself while I’m gone.”

“Why not? It might wake me up!” Kuseno jokes with another easy laugh.

 

//

 

The hand is exactly where Saitama left it, underneath the massive, split tree. Already, the leaves on the broken half of the tree are wilting. They’ll be dried up and dead soon. At least the same won’t happen to that cyborg. And the little birds…

Saitama puts the hand into his backpack, and digs out his binoculars to check on the nest. He can hardly see the nest, but he doesn’t spot the mother. It’s too soon to tell just yet.

It’s too soon to tell with the cyborg, either. Saitama hurries back, hand in tow, and announces his swift return with a little sense of pride. But Kuseno just grunts and tells him to leave the hand on his counter. “I’ll get to it later.”

That was hardly what he was expecting. There was no sense of urgency for it after all? It’s annoying to say the least, but Saitama only huffs softly to himself and mentally reminds himself that he has already taken care of the urgent part. Now that the cyborg has a power source and is stabilized, the rest is up to the doctor. Still, he lingers, handing Kuseno tools and pacing restlessly.

“He isn’t awake yet?” Saitama asks at last, scratching his neck.

“Oh, no,” Kuseno says. “This will take a while before he’s fixed. Maybe a few days, if it’s good.”

“A few days? Oh wow,” Saitama frowns. “I didn’t realize. Sorry to burden you with this.”

“Don’t apologize. I miss having stimulating work to do,” Kuseno says. “Bring me that hand.”

Saitama retrieves it, and passes it to the doctor, who looks it over.

“Excellent. Yes. This will reattach nicely. I’ll only need to weld it a bit here…”

Kuseno’s work is a little fascinating, Saitama has to admit. Although he could never wrap his mind around any sort of mechanics or engineering – it was always so boring to study systems in school, and he doesn’t remember any of it – Kuseno’s enthusiasm almost makes it seem exciting. And Saitama has never seen a cyborg like this one before. He’s so… beautiful handsome attractive …striking.

“That was quite the storm last night,” Kuseno says, almost startling Saitama with his sudden casual conversation. “Did all of your little neighbors pull through alright?”

“Uh… there was one nest that fell,” Saitama says, suddenly remembering that he’d neglected to finish his rounds. “But the rest were fine,” he adds, knowing it’s a lie. He isn’t even sure, and the realization gives him a pang of guilt. There were at least six nests he didn’t even get to look at. He was so distracted.

“I hope you didn’t lose any,” Kuseno says, in a way that’s more of a question than a statement. He picks up a pair of welding googles and Saitama perks slightly with interest.

“Not yet,” Saitama says, watching Kuseno gather his welding tools and inspect the broken end of the cyborg’s arm. “This big tree was broken in half by the lightning. I found four nestlings. If their mother doesn’t come back for them, I’ll have to do something.”

“I’m sure it will work out,” Kuseno says, giving Saitama a big smile. Then he puts down his goggles and starts his torch.

The flame touches the cyborg’s arm for only two seconds, and then his entire body jerks, and his eyes fly open with a strangled cry escaping from mouth. The cyborg’s face is a mask of pain and confusion, and his upper body immediately rises, trying to lurch away from the source of his agony. He doesn’t get far before Saitama’s hands stop him, pushing him back down onto the table before he can accidentally pull off his wires.

“Keep him still!” Kuseno barks, agitated to be interrupted while messing around with high temperatures.

“Lie down,” Saitama says, his voice somehow both stern and comforting. He keeps his hands firm on the cyborg’s chest. “You need to stay still.”

Kuseno puts the torch back to work immediately, and the cyborg’s head smacks back against the table with a solid crack, his eyes wide. His teeth clench, the cords of his neck strained, and his body starts trembling again. No sound escapes him except ragged breaths, but to Saitama he might as well be screaming.

“He’s in pain,” Saitama spits out.

“It’s just nerves sending messages to the brain,” Kuseno says. “He’ll be fine. I have to do this right.”

That’s exactly what pain is, Saitama wants to yell at him. He also has an overwhelming urge to smack him, but he knows that Kuseno is right, and he can’t be interrupted again. Sometimes helping seems a little cruel.

“Hey, look at me,” Saitama says, lifting one hand to gently pat the cyborg’s face and get his attention. There’s a half second of delay and then the cyborg rolls his head to the side, his gold-rimmed black eyes focusing on Saitama.

“I know it hurts, but it’ll be over soon,” Saitama says. He can feel the muscles trembling in the cyborg’s jaw under his fingers. “You’re doing really well. Just try to stay still and focus on me. I know, I’m a terrible sight to look at, but ugly things can be a good distraction.”

The cyborg’s mouth twitches, an attempted smile that never takes root, and then blinks rapidly, eyes refocusing as sparks fly from the torch. The effort to stay still, to stay silent, is written all across his body language, and on impulse Saitama brushes his fingers against the cyborg’s face in an effort to soothe him. Those golden eyes lock onto him again, full of surprise, and then flutter shut, head leaning into his touch. Saitama takes it as a good sign, stroking his thumb repeatedly over the synthetic skin, mapping out the shape of a fine cheekbone, and then trailing his hand upwards and letting his fingers gently card through the short blonde hair.

Almost every other part of the cyborg is hard, inhuman, machine. But this…

Saitama is still petting the cyborg when he realizes that Kuseno stopped working a while ago. When he glances at the doctor, he has his welding equipment set aside and is busy using some kind of tool on the dismembered hand.

“Ah... I can keep him calm,” Saitama says, suddenly a little too aware that he has one hand on the cyborg's chest and the other resting in the soft fibers of his hair. And he doesn't really want to move either of them. “Let me know when you're going to start again.”

“Hm? Oh no, I should be quite done with that,” Kuseno says, still absorbed with his fiddling. “I only wanted to repair the joint. It will go back into place now.”

“Are you sure?” Saitama asks, a little irritably. “If you have to weld it on…”

“If I did that, he wouldn't be able to move his hand,” Kuseno chuckles. “No, no, I'm finished with that. You did an excellent job. Now I can see why your patients must adore you. You’re very sweet with them.”

“I only wanted to make sure you didn’t stupidly weld your own hand in place!” Saitama protests, taking his hands away from the cyborg. At the loss, its eyes open once more, watching him, and then looking around the room. Saitama folds his arms and pretends not to notice. The cyborg makes no movement to get up. At least it's calm again.

“Thank you for caring for an old man,” Kuseno says. “The rest of the work isn't nearly as exciting, unless you have a passion for rewiring. I shouldn't need your help.”

When Saitama stubbornly hesitates, the doctor adds, “To be clear, it is a little intricate, like performing surgery. I'd rather if you left so I can focus on the work.”

“Fine. I have things to do anyway,” Saitama says. “Call me if you have trouble.”

“I won't have trouble,” Kuseno says pleasantly, which annoys him more. “Go enjoy your day.”

Saitama goes without another word, both because Kuseno is really starting to bother him today, and because he really does have unfinished things to do.

Once he gets home, he heads directly back into the woods to finish checking for any other fallen nests. He doesn't find any, but it doesn't put him at ease. He's lost a good chunk of time, being interrupted like that.

All he can do is hope that he hadn't left one of his animals behind, vulnerable and helpless against predators while he was distracted. Not that he regrets helping the cyborg. He'd do it again, without question. But having to put one thing before another always makes him feel a little guilty.

If that cyborg still dies after all this, he'll be really miffed.

x

Chapter Text

The next morning, Saitama tries not to think about the cyborg at all. He manages to get through the entire day without letting himself stop to worry.

There’s no need. Kuseno will call him.

But his subconscious mind and his conscious mind aren’t exactly on the same page of playing it cool.

Saitama has one of his weird dreams that night. He’s back in the woods, trying to retrieve the cyborg’s hand. But instead of lying on the ground where it should have been, it’s gone. With horror, Saitama realizes… it crawled away! He looks up to see trees full of hundreds of birds’ nests, and every nest has a metal hand perched in it, and as soon as he sees them they all launch into the air with an almost explosively loud fluttering of wings, screeching like demons pouring of out hell--

He jerks awake with a yell, terrified for a moment when the screeching doesn't stop. It isn’t part of his dream, it’s real! He almost falls out of bed, rushing to his window in panic, actually expecting to see a swarm of flying cybernetic hands darkening the sky… and sees a bunch of blackbirds taking off instead.

It’s only then that he realizes what kind of idiotic thought was just in his head.

"Flying hands? Really?" he says to himself, clapping his hands to his face. "You need to wake up!"

 

//

 

The rest of the day is less eventful.

At the end of the evening, once all of his chores are complete, Saitama decides to take a long hike into the woods. It’s been awhile since he’s gone out like this, just for no reason but to enjoy himself.

While he’s walking, he happens to stumble onto a fox. It stares directly at him, its gaze oddly piercing, and then darts away. The encounter is only a matter of seconds, but Saitama is left standing there, stunned. He can still see those eyes, all gold and rimmed in black.

Suddenly all he can think about is the cyborg. All the thoughts he managed not to dwell on yesterday come to him now in full force. He can’t help but wonder about the cyborg, if it’s okay, what will happen to it, if cyborgs can really feel things like pain, or fear, or gratitude.

Saitama is so deep in thought, he barely even notices anything the entire way back – in fact, he walks smack into a low-hanging branch.

"Ow. That was rude," Saitama says to the tree, touching the bridge of his nose with his fingertips. They come away dotted with a small dab of blood.

He continues home, much more mindful of his surroundings, but his thoughts are still incessant.

It can't hurt to go see Kuseno. At the least, the doctor must have made some progress. Maybe the stubborn old goat will even need his help after all.

Saitama heads directly to Kuseno’s house. This time, the trip seems much shorter. He's out of his truck and in the doctor’s doorway before he can rethink his decision.

"Come in," Kuseno calls from somewhere inside.

Saitama lets himself in, mindful to leave his muddy boots at the door this time. Kuseno’s home is always so clean and organized. Maybe it's one of his quirks, from years of working in a sterile environment. But more than that, the furniture itself is sparse, making the house seem even bigger than it is because of so much empty space. Aside from the impressive bookcases, and a few tools and personal effects laying around, it would almost seem like nobody actually lives in it. In contrast, Saitama's own home is cluttered. But it's not that he doesn't try to clean up, it's just that his own home has been… lived in.

He finds Kuseno in the kitchen making himself a cup of tea.

"Would you like some?" the old man offers, pleasant as ever.

"No thanks," Saitama says, peering into the next room to see if the cyborg is still there. "Have you made any progress?"

"Some," Kuseno says, after a second of consideration. "Not as much as I might have back in the day, I'm afraid."

"Oh."

"It's not like you to come just for a visit," Kuseno comments. "Especially so late in the evening. Not that I mind, but I know you well enough to wonder, what's troubling you?"

Saitama feels as if he's been caught out in an obvious lie. It's true that he isn't the type to socialize. He doesn't even visit town except for when he really needs to restock on food and supplies every month or so. For the most part, he tries to have a self-sufficient life, not only to save money but also to rely on others a little less. He has a large garden where he can grow most of his own food, and a smaller greenhouse in the winter. Sometimes there’s extra, even after canning things for the winter, and he’ll sell a little of it, but the rest he’s given away to his neighbors. After all, it would only go to waste otherwise.

But thinking back, the only times he’s really visited Kuseno in the past was when he had come to surprise the old man with some of his extra fruits and vegetables. At Christmas, he’d even made an effort to gift each of his neighbors a jar of homemade jam, but that was about the extent of his interactions with them. They were nice people, especially Mumen, but he just wasn't much of a talker.

In all the years Saitama's had Kuseno for a neighbor, he's really never stopped in just to chat. So he has no idea how to explain why he's here now. He has no idea how to explain that he’s really only interested in the cyborg.

"Oh. I see," the doctor says quietly, looking at Saitama’s face as if the answer must be as plain as day. Saitama opens his mouth to say something -- some kind of reassuring lie that he is in fact a normal person who enjoys the company of others… occasionally -- but before he can speak, the old man taps him on the nose.

"This is why," Kuseno says, as if he's figured out a little secret. Saitama is thoroughly confused for a second, but the slightest twinge of pain reminds him of the scrape on his nose.

"It's not really a big deal," Saitama says, embarrassed.

"You don't need to have a broken arm every time you see me," Kuseno says. "Or a dying cyborg, for that matter. The little things are worth my time, too. Let's get that cleaned up. You don't want to know what a bad infection can do."

Kuseno pats Saitama on the shoulder, saying he'll be right back, and goes to the bathroom to get his first aid kit.

In the old man's absence, Saitama seizes the opportunity to wander. He wants to see the cyborg again. Maybe even talk to him, if it has enough energy now to speak.

But in the next room, the sight of the cyborg on the table is not what he expected. Its chest is still open, but now more panels have been removed, all the way down to its groin, and the burned clothes it had been wearing have been completely removed. There are wires and tubes spilling out of it, like guts, and other small mechanical parts sitting on the table around it. It's like it's been eviscerated.

Saitama walks to the other side of the table, where the cyborg's head rests, wondering if it's okay in this condition, but the cyborg is unconscious and motionless.

"Ah, there you are," Kuseno says, returning with his kit in hand. He follows Saitama’s gaze to the cyborg, and looks it over as well. "It’s a rather ugly-looking business, isn't it?" he asks, setting his first aid kit down on the table.

Saitama isn't even sure what to think. "He looks worse now than when I brought him to you."

"That's just aesthetics," Kuseno assures him. "I had to replace a lot of burnt wire and clean out the insides."

Saitama can't imagine how the cyborg handled that. "Why isn't he awake?"

"He couldn't stop fidgeting," Kuseno says, as if it’s a small thing.

Saitama is so angry, he actually feels a little light-headed. "You mean he was in pain."

"Well, yes," Kuseno says. "The lightning did a lot of damage, Saitama. I didn't want him to keep suffering, so I turned off his sensory receptors and then manually put him into sleep mode, so he won't feel a thing while I make the repairs. I'm not cruel."

Saitama isn't even sure what to say to that. He had assumed too much, maybe, when he thought that Kuseno didn't care. Now with that explanation, he couldn't find fault with him, and it made him a little more flustered than relieved.

"You can put him into sleep mode?"

"Yes. It's a little more complicated than that, but essentially, yes." Kuseno smiles. "He's perfectly fine, Saitama. I wish I could do the same to myself."

Saitama feels doubtful, but he isn't even sure why. Maybe his real frustration is that he can't talk to the cyborg, can't satisfy his curiosity, and can't do anything to help but sit on his hands.

He says nothing more about it, and lets Kuseno clean his scrape, dab his nose with antibacterial gel, and cover it with a band-aid.

"It shouldn't scar, so long as you leave it alone," Kuseno tells him. "Now go on home. I know you have lots to be doing, and so do I. As soon as he's fixed up, I promise I will call to let you know."

 

//

 

Trying to not think about something is almost impossible. That night, Saitama dreams of wires. Tangled, knotted together. He can't untwist them in time, and they all burn.

His days become so busy, Saitama all but forgets about the strange cyborg. He has so many chores to do and catch up on. The laundry has to be hung out while the weather is nice, and the dishes in the sink have been piling up. He makes a day of cleaning, even sweeping the floors and scrubbing the bathroom.

Then he goes outside and plucks weeds out of the garden. Saitama tends to his fruits and vegetables, checking their progress.

"Ah, you're going to be a big one! And what is this? The smallest tomato I've ever seen. But you'll still taste good!"

He picks a few of the ripe tomatoes, before they can start to spoil, and brings them inside to wash for lunch.

There's something so satisfying about being able to literally taste the fruits of his labor.

The next day, Saitama eats his breakfast on the porch - coffee and toast.

His birds are always awake at this time of day, and today they are especially lively, hopping along his porch railing and twittering at him.

Saitama crumbles up the crust of his toast and tosses it to them, laughing when the little birds get all aflutter over a few dry crumbs. He makes sure to go inside and get a handful of seed to toss in the yard for them before he leaves.

"That's all, guys," he informs them, putting on his backpack and heading out into the woods.

Today, Saitama is thinking that he'll mark all of the maple trees that he can identify. Making his own maple syrup is something he's always thought about, but he wasn't sure about the process, or how to properly tap a tree, and he kind of regretted the idea of punching random holes into trees without knowing what he was doing. But as of lately, he's been reading up on how the process works, and he's ready to start planning so he can give it a try.

Saitama marks several trees, tying blue string around them, to remind himself later.

He ends up further into the woods than maybe he should go, for the sake of convenience, but that doesn't really matter to him yet. He’s sure he’ll have to narrow down his choices later anyway.

Then he stumbles across it. The remains of a rabbit, picked apart and left with nothing but bones and bloody fur.

It’s funny because it reminds Saitama of a similar rabbit he'd seen weeks before, having a snack in his garden. But that rabbit had been heavily pregnant, so he’d only shooed it off.

Suddenly, Saitama is certain that it’s the exact same animal. And it's been dead for at least a day or two, judging by the dampness and condition of the remains. Maybe longer.

"Oh, no..."

 

//

 

Saitama spends the entire day looking for the den. He knows that mother rabbits tend to stay far from their kits during the day, to avoid luring predators.

They could be literally anywhere. It’s a long shot, but he has to try.

In the end, Saitama finds the den when he finds another dead rabbit. This time, it's one of the kits. The body is fresher -- dead but not picked apart, and not dragged. It must have been hungry and come out of the nest on its own.

Saitama finds the opening of the den, and sets his bag down beside it, dropping to his knees. He's never seen many rabbits in all the years he's lived here. He certainly doesn't think there's a full warren in this area. That and the fact that a kit had crawled out on its own makes him suspect that the burrow must not be too deep. He hopes not anyway. He has a shovel and is more than willing to dig, but the risk of injuring one of the rabbits isn't worth it.

He puts on his gloves and reaches into the burrow.

"This is some horror movie kind of nonsense," Saitama mumbles to himself, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that comes naturally from reaching into a dark hole, even though he knows that the worst thing he can encounter is probably the sharp claws of a fully grown and frightened rabbit. But that's what the glove is for. And Kuseno is fully capable of giving stitches.

He has to flatten himself against the ground, and reach deeper, past his elbow. Saitama starts to worry the burrow really will continue on, and maybe even loop, meaning he'll have to dig. Then his hand hits something that moves, and for a second he nearly comes out of his skin until he realizes it's soft and small.

Saitama manages to gently get hold of it, and pulls out a kit, and then another, and another. There are three in all - when he reaches in deeper to feel for a fourth, he hits a solid dirt wall instead, and it seems like the hole is a dead end.

They're still young, with thin fur and thinner bellies. Saitama wraps them in one of the soft blankets he always keeps in his backpack, and holds them close to his chest while he carries them back home, both to keep them warm and so they can't accidentally jump out of his arms.

He can't believe he actually managed to find them, but sometimes he gets lucky.

"I guess I'm gonna be your mom now."

 

//

 

Saitama spends that night setting up a place for the rabbits to sleep, and struggling to feed them special formula from a tiny bottle. One of them, a patchy white-and-brown female, takes to the bottle so well, Saitama has to actually slow down, afraid that it might aspirate the formula into its lungs. The second one is a muddled brown, and gives Saitama more trouble. It won't latch onto the nipple, so Saitama resorts to feeding it a drop at a time, forcing it to lick its lips clean, until finally it gains an interest and laps the formula from the bottle directly. The third is the smallest, with grey and black in its fur. Saitama has to resort to the same method, wetting the little rabbit’s mouth over and over again with a single drop, so that it will eat. It never warms up to the bottle, and more than once, Saitama has to wipe its mouth off instead so it won't accidentally inhale the formula.

"Well, there’s always one that’s difficult," Saitama comments, knowing that soon enough it will change its mind and decide that formula is good enough.

He plans to feed them twice a day, morning and evening, like their mother would, so when Saitama is done, he makes sure they’re warm and secure in their box, and leaves the tiny balls of fluff alone so they can rest.

Morning is met with disappointment when he realizes that the smallest rabbit died in the night.

Saitama gingerly takes it out of the box, noting how small and skinny it was compared to the others. He hopes that the remaining two will have a better chance of surviving.

He feeds them, and then takes the small rabbit out into the backyard to bury it at the edge of the woods, and then goes to find the mother and baby that had died in the woods, to bury them as well. Normally he would leave nature alone as much as possible, but in this case it seems a little more appropriate to let them be together.

When he’s done, he marks the spot with a smooth stone and wipes the sweat from his brow.

 

//

 

To his relief, the two rabbits are doing well the next morning. They seem a little fatter in his hand, but it might be his imagination. Rabbits do grow quickly, and these ones were already old enough to have their eyes open when he found them. It’s good for them, because it means they had their mother’s milk for at least a few days before they were orphaned. He has the right kind of formula to help them grow, but nothing replaces the real thing.

They eat like hungry little piglets -- not that Saitama has ever actually had experience with pigs, but the expression seems appropriate. Worse, they are very snuggly -- they enjoy nuzzling against his chest and trying to explore every time he feeds them. He has to gently pry them away from himself when he’s done taking care of them, and put them back into their box.

Saitama is in the garden, wondering if he could start introducing them to some vegetables soon, when Kuseno calls.

He grabs the phone on its last ring, almost dropping it.

Kuseno’s cheerful voice informs him that ‘his’ cyborg is fully fixed.

"I’ll be right over," he says, wiping his dirt-covered hands off on his jeans.

He hangs up the phone, and on his way out the door, doubles back into the house.

"Behave yourselves," Saitama says, covering the bunny box with a blanket, just in case they might have otherwise managed to get out and get themselves into trouble while he was gone. It’s heavy enough to make a good ‘lid’, but thin enough not to be stifling.

As he leaves, Saitama is briefly amused by the thought that he might be returning later with another rescue.

X

Chapter Text

Saitama can't believe it's been an entire week since he first found the cyborg.

The realization occurs to him while he's on his way to Kuseno’s home. Towards the end, he'd been so preoccupied that the last few days had kind of slipped away from him.

When he arrives, Saitama climbs the steps to Kuseno’s porch so fast, he isn’t even sure his feet touched any of them. He taps at the door, waits two seconds, and then lets himself in. Kuseno is expecting him anyway.

"Hey, Doc," he calls out to announce his arrival. There's no immediate reply, but he doesn't wait for the man to show up. That other room is calling to him. He’d like to at least get a glimpse of the cyborg without the old man hovering around.

Saitama has been wondering how the cyborg would look once it's fixed, but for some reason he had expected it to still be lying on the impromptu operating table.

It’s not.

Instead, it’s on its feet, dressed only in an ill-fitting pair of old grey sweatpants and leaning over the table. One metal hand is flat on the wooden surface and the other is holding a rag, trying to scrub what look like oil spots out of the wood grain.

All Saitama can see is the cyborg’s bare back, but it almost feels obscene, like he’s seeing something he shouldn't. The metal plates shift hypnotically while the cyborg works, and the flexible black material in between almost resembles muscle. Straight down the center of its back, there’s a shock of white, resembling the bone of an exposed spine.

Maybe it should be unsettling, but all Saitama can think is that it's actually kind of... beautiful.

"Wow. You're looking better now," Saitama says, and is about to comment on how Kuseno did a good job, when the cyborg’s back suddenly goes ramrod straight and it whirls around to face him.

Saitama had somehow forgotten how breath-taking the cyborg really is in person. Its eyes are like glowing rings of amber set against obsidian, and they go wide at the sight of him.

"You came back!" the cyborg blurts out, in a mixture of excitement and disbelief. His face splits wide with the most amazing smile Saitama has ever seen, only to quickly fade again. A worried little crease appears on his brow, and then the cyborg shuts his mouth, lips pinched tight, as if he shouldn’t have spoken at all.

Saitama can only gape in reply. It’s not only the first time he’s truly heard the cyborg’s voice, but the grin that flashed across his face was so happy and sincere that watching it deliberately force itself to stop is almost painful.

"Of course I came back," Saitama says, as soon as he remembers how to speak. For an instant it seems like the cyborg might smile again, but then its eyes shift away to focus on something behind him.

"You got here quickly," Kuseno says, joining them in the room, a shirt in his hands. "I was hoping to do a grand reveal, but I guess it’s too late now."

"He looks amazing," Saitama says, before he forgets to give Kuseno his due praise.

"It’s all aesthetics, lad," Kuseno smiles. "He was already amazing."

Saitama isn’t sure what to say to that, but luckily he doesn’t have to. Kuseno steps towards the cyborg, handing the white t-shirt over to him. "This should fit you. Try it on."

"Yes, sir," the cyborg says, obedient.

Saitama anticipates watching the cyborg dress, curious about how its body flexes and moves, the natural range of motion involved, but Kuseno tugs at his elbow, interrupting.

"Can I talk to you?" Kuseno asks, in a way that isn’t really a question at all. The doctor walks off into the next room before Saitama can answer, expecting him to follow. He wants to wait just a second, shuffle his feet so he can catch another peek of marvelous cybernetic engineering at work, but the cyborg still has the shirt in his hands and is staring back at him now, a curious look on its face.

Saitama curses silently and leaves to go find Kuseno.

The doctor is making tea again, or rather, already had some ready. He hands Saitama a warm cup without bothering to ask first, and takes a long, slow sip from his own. Kuseno knows Saitama would decline otherwise. Saitama knows that this is his way of wanting to talk shop.

Saitama has to concede. He takes a drink, quietly sighing into the cup as he does, and then waits for a beat.

"So… what’s wrong with him?"

"Your friend? Nothing. My work is flawless," Kuseno assures him.

Saitama doesn’t fall for it, but doesn’t feel like repeating the same question twice. "What do you want to talk to me about?"

"You said you found this cyborg in the woods?"

"Yeah, obviously. Why?"

"He’s no standard model," Kuseno says. "He had a core that was far more powerful than anything I’ve had the pleasure of working with before. It was capable of storing massive amounts of energy. I believe that’s why he was able to survive a lightning strike."

"Oh. Cool. He’s lucky, then."

"It’s not just a random upgrade," Kuseno continues. "He was designed with weapon systems."

Saitama waits for the man to go on, but the other man just keeps looking at him, as if waiting for him to catch on to what he’s saying. Saitama feels his jaw tighten, annoyed, and he shakes his head in denial. "That doesn’t mean anything."

"I’d like to agree with you, but his core could only be black market or military grade."

"Then maybe he’s in law enforcement," Saitama says.

"Those models are equipped with a variety of non-lethal weapons," Kuseno says.

"And bullets."

"Ammunition, yes," Kuseno agrees. "For precise, lethal attacks, and suppression fire. But GEN-05 isn’t equipped with ammunition. From what I can tell, he’s capable of incredible fire power. And I do mean fire. The flame jets would come from his hands, and possibly some of his vents, as they appear to be designed to improve movement speed. This kind of attack is meant for widespread destruction, not precision. Given the fact that the temperatures would far exceed-"

"Stop talking," Saitama interrupts, his voice quiet but cold.

Kuseno pauses, and then exhales softly. "You should know what he’s capable of. The core I gave him as a replacement isn’t nearly as powerful as the last one, but he’s still dangerous."

"You think he was part of the war," Saitama says, and it’s not question.

Kuseno doesn’t say anything. He’s not the type to speculate, but to let others come to their own conclusions. It’s extremely annoying.

"He’ll be fine."

"Saitama… please be aware, these types can be unpredictable, and they’re programmed to be aggressive."

"Don’t," Saitama says, shaking his head again. He's so angry, he actually wants to laugh, but that would end badly. He’s trying his best not to lose his cool. Not while he owes Kuseno so much. "Cyborgs have human brains, right? So he’s not programmed to do anything. He can decide for himself."

Kuseno gives him a truly pitying look. "It’s not that simple, Saitama."

"No. It’s really not that simple," Saitama replies pointedly, setting his cup down. He knows Kuseno only means the best, but for some reason this conversation makes his blood boil. He’s too familiar with arguments against helping ‘dangerous’ things. He’s handled wild animals, and he knows what dangerous look like. He also knows what it doesn’t look like.

"I didn’t mean to offend you," Kuseno says, leaning forward and clapping a hand onto Saitama’s shoulder. "He’s been nothing if not good since I woke him up. But you of all people understand that even cats have claws. I want you to be aware of what you’re working with. Just in case."

"Thanks," Saitama says, still terse, but finding it hard to truly despise Kuseno. Technically speaking, the man is right to say that the cyborg’s weapons are dangerous, even if Saitama hates what it implies. He's right to warn Saitama that the cyborg himself could be dangerous, even if it makes Saitama want to put him through a wall for it. But rationally, he knows he's the one being absurd. He barely knows the cyborg yet. And that just makes him angrier, wondering if he might be wrong.

Saitama returns to the other room, and for a moment he almost mistakenly thinks that the cyborg is missing. Before he can really wonder where it disappeared to, Saitama realizes it’s almost by his feet, sitting on the floor with its back against the wall. Its knees are drawn up to its chest, head down so Saitama can’t see his face, white t-shirt still clutched in its metal hands.

This is the kind of reaction Saitama might have expected from a child. Trying to make itself look smaller. Trying to hide in plain sight.

"You heard all that, huh?"

At Saitama’s voice, the cyborg’s head lifts, and it rises to its feet, hastily wiping oily stains from its face and standing at attention.

"I have complete control over my incinerators, sir," the cyborg tells him. "I would never-- I-I won’t use them."

"Okay. That's up to you, I guess," Saitama says. "But not setting things on fire would be ideal, so that's good. What's your name?"

The cyborg stares at him blankly for an overly long second, as if it can't comprehend the question. "I… I am designated by my batch number…" he lifts his hand to gesture to his chest, where the serial numbers were engraved, but his fingers skitter across perfectly smooth metal instead. Kuseno had apparently resurfaced him. "Oh."

"G-E-N zero five, yeah?" Saitama asks.

"Yes, sir."

"You don't have another name, or a nickname?" Saitama asks, scratching his head.

"Number five?"

Saitama laughs awkwardly. "Were there numbers one through four?"

"Yes," the cyborg says, all too seriously, a little frown on his face. "There were nine of us."

Saitama perks up a little, intrigued by this news. He could bring the cyborg back to them. "Where are they now?"

The frown doesn't leave the cyborg’s face. "They were decommissioned."

Saitama has a sinking feeling he knows what that means, but he asks anyway. "And that means…"

"They were irrevocably flawed. They had to be torn apart and pieced out for repurposing," the cyborg says, his eyes distant and voice a little strange, almost hollow. His eyes flicker and settle on Saitama again. "But I'm in perfect working condition," he adds earnestly.

"Of course you are, I never allow my work to be anything less than perfect!" Kuseno declares, a big smile on his face as he rejoins them.

"Yes, thank you for repairing me, Doctor!" the cyborg says, a little too enthusiastically.

Kuseno frowns at the white shirt still clutched in the cyborg's hand, all but forgotten. "Does the shirt not fit?"

"I’m sorry. My arms are too large."

"Give it here," Saitama says abruptly, holding out his hand.

The cyborg only looks startled for a split second and then recovers, obeying Saitama's command without missing a beat.

"I don't require clothing," it offers quietly, but Saitama is already feeling in his back pocket for the sharp little knife he usually carries on him.

He's so ruthlessly efficient, the cyborg can hardly tell if Saitama is cutting the shirt, or tearing it apart. At first he's sure it's the latter, and he feels a little nervous watching Saitama tearing the shirt to pieces, wondering if he is angry with him, for his flaws. But then the man stops, carefully folding up the knife again, and putting it away. Chunks of white fabric drop to the floor when Saitama shakes out the shirt.

"Up," Saitama says, bunching up the shirt in his hands, and bringing it towards the cyborg.

It takes him a few milliseconds too long to understand. He feels so slow. The cyborg lifts his arms, letting Saitama guide the shirt onto him. Amazingly, it fits quite loosely now and he realizes it is because the sleeves had been cut away.

"Pretty good," Saitama says, running his hands over the cyborg's torso, smoothing out the shirt and then tugging on the hem to straighten it. "You need a name," he says, almost as if musing aloud. His hands trail back up, still touching him, as if to check that the cyborg is solid and real. Everywhere his fingers go feel like electricity. His touches are so light, so strange, the cyborg has to hold still to stop from trembling fiercely.

Saitama's index finger traces over the spot where the cyborg's serial number used to be, now blank, and covered with plain white fabric. The cyborg can't help but wonder if his mind will be wiped blank too, and whether or not that makes him afraid.

"Genos," Saitama says, lifting his head and smiling brilliantly. "Ah. That's kind of obvious though, isn't it?" he asks, doubtful.

Genos… The other man acts like it's a mistake, but the name hits him with a weight and a clarity that the cyborg has never felt before. It's him.

The cyborg blinks at him. "I’ve never had a name before."

"I'm sorry… Shit, that's rude of me, isn't it?" Saitama withdraws, realizing he's still touching him, and the cyborg has to stop his body from wanting to follow, to keep the gap between them closed. He feels more ripped open than when the doctor had him on the table, and the feeling is so confusing. "You should choose your own name."

"No," he blurts out, afraid it could be taken back, erased from the records, as if it had never been spoken in the first place. This is the first time he's been referred to as anything besides a number, or something unique instead of "cyborg" or "hey you," and he doesn't want to ever go back. "I like it. Please call me Genos."

"Okay," Saitama agrees, simply.

Genos can't help himself from beaming with joy, and seeing the cyborg so enthusiastic makes Saitama crack a small smile as well. It's stupid, Saitama thinks, realizing how much he's already going to miss this dumb kid when he's gone. But he's supposed to help him, after all.

"So, what do you want to do, Genos?"

Genos looks at him, expectant. "I don't know what you mean."

"Do you want me to take you home?" Saitama clarifies. It might be a bit of a hassle, but he figures Genos will be able to give him a lead. Maybe there’s a number he can call. And if not, or if Genos doesn't want to go back, he can start thinking of some appropriate places where-

"You'd let me come home with you, Master?"

Saitama's mouth drops open. "Wh-uh? But I…" Genos looks so eager, Saitama tries to turn to Kuseno for help, but the old man is just sipping tea, smiling to himself.

"I don't own you, Genos," Saitama tries to reason.

"But you replaced my parts and fixed me," Genos says, his eyes narrowing in confusion.

"Yeah, but somebody's got to be missing you," Saitama says. "I mean, I know I would."

Genos shakes his head, looking a little angry and distressed. "I don't want them to."

"The salvage laws are very clear on this," Kuseno chimes in. "Genos was in critical condition, and I made the repairs to save him. He needed a new core, new internal systems, and extensive rewiring, not to mention the repairs to his exterior lining and limbs. In total, I’d say it greatly exceeds 50% of his original estimated value. The only way his original owners can take him back is if they are willing to pay me for him. Which, of course, I would refuse."

"Thank you, Doctor," Genos says.

Kuseno only waves his hand dismissively. "You could keep him, if you’d like to," he says to Saitama.

Saitama fidgets, forcing himself to look away from the cyborg. It's an old habit of trying to make sure he doesn’t let himself want what he knows he can't have. "I can't afford to pay you for his repairs. You should keep him, Doctor. He'll be useful for you."

"Don't be silly," Kuseno says. "I have no use for a cyborg. He'll be happier with you."

"But I can't pay you back," Saitama says again, red-faced. "Not even in installments."

Kuseno taps his chin thoughtfully. "You've chopped wood for me in the winter, and there was the time you removed that beehive."

"That wasn't anything," Saitama mumbles, although he remembers being stung quite a few times. Mumen had appreciated the addition to his apiary, and had given him a jar of honey later.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're even," Kuseno assures him.

Saitama looks at the cyborg, who's been standing quiet and attentive. It doesn't seem right to be discussing his future without asking for any input. "Is that what you want, Genos?"

"I'd be happy to serve you, Master," Genos says, too quickly, too sincere.

"Geez. Don't say such weird things, okay?"

"Yes, Master."

Saitama sighs, rubbing his face as he wonders what he's getting himself into. "Okay. If that's what you want. We should go. I've got kits waiting at home."

"You have children, Master?" Genos asks, misunderstanding.

"Ah. Yeah, kind of. I'm their mom now, so…"

"How many this time?" Kuseno asks, to Genos’s further confusion.

"Two," Saitama says, digging out his keys and twirling them on his fingers absentmindedly, anxious to leave.

"Lovely! They're lucky to have you, as usual," Kuseno beams, and then suddenly turns to address the cyborg. "Listen, Genos, if you notice anything wrong with your systems or have any other concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know. Other than that, I think a regular maintenance check will be fine about... every six months?"

"That seems adequate," Genos nods, his face serious.

"Six months?" Saitama echoes, a whine of protest his voice.

"Don't worry, Genos will remind you," Kuseno says, cheerful as ever, and Saitama groans aloud.

"Let’s go, Genos."

Saitama heads for the door, only lingering long enough to make sure that the cyborg is coming. Kuseno tells him to drive safely, which Saitama all but ignores, only nodding and lifting a hand in acknowledgment. He's eager to just get into his truck and go home. There's a lot he really needs to do anyway, but even if he didn't, Saitama is ready to retreat. He feels like he's hit his limit for socializing for the next ten years.

And he needs to come back in six months?

Saitama just sits in the driver's seat for a second, rubbing his hand over his face. He already worries what he’s signed on for.

The reality of his situation sets in when Genos climbs into the passenger seat beside him. As soon as he shuts the door behind him, it’s like all of the air has been sucked out of the truck’s cab. All Saitama can do is stare at him, remembering that the last time Genos was in that seat, Saitama had thought he’d died. But now Genos is upright and alert, his eyes wide, metal hands running over the dashboard with utmost curiosity.

"Hey," Saitama interrupts, almost a little irritably. "Buckle up."

After a moment of Genos staring at him in confusion, Saitama has to tug on his own seat buckle before Genos understands and clumsily pulls the strap across his chest as they pull out of the yard.

The trees blurring by, and the crunch of gravel under his tires would almost be soothing, every aspect of the land and every divot in the road long memorized, but Saitama keeps noticing Genos fidgeting in the passenger seat. He wants to sigh, wishing Genos would just speak and get it over with already, because the unnecessary waiting is even worse than forced conversation.

"Sir…" Genos starts, but then trails off again, uncertain... or maybe waiting for permission.

"Just say what’s on your mind, Genos," Saitama says, and then wants to slap himself for sounding a lot ruder than he intended. The whole business with Kuseno has gotten him into such a bad mood. He just wants to go home and try to relax.

Genos is quiet again for a while, seemingly gauging whether he wants to speak at all. "I just wanted to say... thank you… for salvaging me," Genos says. "I’ll make myself useful to you."

Saitama stares at the road for a moment, silent, and then at Genos, who looks away, as if he shouldn’t dare to meet Saitama’s eyes. He lets out a bitter laugh, and shakes his head, his brow knit as he focuses on the road again. "Salvage," he repeats, making no effort to hide his disgust. "That’s an ugly word."

Genos hesitates. "It seemed… accurate."

"Don’t. It makes you sound like you’re scrap metal," Saitama says. "Don’t ever use it to talk about yourself again. Okay?"

"Yes, Master," Genos says, meek.

"I’m not your master," Saitama tells him, but then sees that Genos still won’t look at him, and forces himself to dial it back. He never in his life thought that he could intimidate a cyborg. "Listen… I didn’t pull you out from under that tree because I thought you could be valuable to me, or useful, or whatever. I did it because… I saw you, and I didn’t want you to die. That’s all. So… you don’t have to call me master."

"I’m sorry…"

"You don’t have to be sorry, just don’t-"

"-I don’t know your name."

Saitama glances at Genos again, and finds the cyborg staring at him. "Oh. It’s Saitama."

"Saitama," Genos repeats. "Thank you, Saitama. For rescuing me."

"You’re welcome," Saitama mumbles.

For the rest of the drive, Genos stares out the window, and Saitama is at a loss for what to say. He’s never had to make small talk before, never found much of a point for it, but now he almost wishes he weren’t quite so inept at this kind of thing.

Saitama only knows enough to think that he should probably say something, to make sure Genos understands that he didn’t mean to sound like a jerk. That he just really hates being around people, and never knows what to say. That sometimes even if he means well, the words all come out wrong.

But then, that is exactly what makes him a jerk, isn’t it?

Seems fair enough.

For once in his life, the silence feels too unbearable, and Saitama finds himself reaching for the radio.

x

Chapter Text

The ride home is only a few minutes long, but Saitama is painfully aware of every second that passes in silence. He can't stop thinking about what he's said to Genos, mentally kicking himself for how the words came out.

As time stretches on, Saitama has an ever-growing, sinking feeling that he's fucked this up already. Genos had been so nice, and now he's quiet and withdrawn, not even looking in Saitama's direction. Saitama has never been good at making friends or even good first impressions, but it usually takes a while longer before people realize he's actually awful.

Usually he doesn't care about other people's opinions of him.

For some reason, it really bothers him that Genos might not like him anymore.

He can't think of what else to say to help mend this. By the time Saitama considers apologizing, he realizes it's already too late for that. Besides, Saitama isn't even sure what to say for himself. All the words are just twisted up in his head.

The worst part is, it's not like he spoke without thinking or said the wrong thing. The only thing he regrets is how harsh he ended up sounding. How is he supposed to apologize for something that he meant? How is he supposed to apologize for something that he'll probably do again?

Maybe it's better if Genos knows now that he can be callous. He'd figure it out eventually.

The radio is the only small reprieve that he has, offering some cheerful tunes to keep the atmosphere from being completely oppressive. Saitama sorely wishes that the moment wasn't so awkward, because the song playing is one of his favorites. But Genos is still dead quiet, still staring out of his window, so Saitama only lets himself tap his fingers against the steering wheel to the beat. He's sure now that Genos regrets not staying with Kuseno. The old man would've been kinder. At that thought, Saitama starts tapping a little harder, no longer in tempo with the music he's barely paying attention to anymore.

For some reason, the sight of his yard isn't as much of a relief as Saitama thought it would be. Instead, it only makes him itch, remembering that Genos will be staying with him. If the guy doesn't hate him already, he will soon. It's only a matter of time, and Saitama already feels resigned the moment that realization crosses his mind.

"This is it," Saitama says, shutting off the engine. "Um, but I guess you already know that since you've been here before."

"I didn't get to see it," Genos says, climbing out of the truck.

"That's true," Saitama mumbles to himself, and hastens to follow.

Saitama's never thought much about how his house looks until this very moment. It's smaller than most homes, with a pitched roof that gives him extra space above for a loft. Everything about it is plain, with no decorations to speak of aside from a little flower bed in front, and some potted plants hanging on the porch, but they were planted with Mumen's bees in mind, not attractiveness.

While other people might pour more effort into presentation, Saitama has always cared about functionality above all else. The smaller size of the house means it's easier and cheaper to heat in the cold months, and living alone, he has more than enough space. In theory, it also means it should be easier to keep clean and maintained, but now Saitama can only see all of the chores he neglected to stay on top of, pushing them aside for tomorrow, another day, some other time, eventually.

To him, his little house has always been lovely, but now Saitama realizes that to anyone else it must look... ugly.

Genos is already trailing around the yard, looking at the flower beds in front of the porch. Yesterday, Saitama was proud of them, finding his handful of colorful blooms to be quite cheerful. But now he realizes that they're kind of scraggly, too sparse to be remotely attractive. His yard is a far cry from the lush gardens he's seen in magazines. Even Kuseno's house is a lot nicer. Genos is probably thinking the same thing.

"I have a vegetable garden in the back," Saitama says, trying to think of whether or not it's more impressive. It's really not, he supposes. But it produces enough food for himself, and that's the point. Even Genos would have to respect that, surely? "And I have a greenhouse that I made. It's not much to look at, but it stays warm in the winter."

"You do all of this by yourself, Master?" Genos questions.

"Yeah," Saitama shrugs, suddenly aware that despite all of the work he does every day, it isn't really enough to keep up. He wishes he could even blame it on having too much to do, but he knows that part of his problem is just laziness. The porch, for instance, hasn't even been swept in ages, and it's long overdue for a new stain.

Speaking of stains... Saitama notices the black spots blemishing Genos's white shirt and feels a modicum of relief knowing that he isn't the only one who can't keep things clean.

"Let's go inside," Saitama says. "You've still got oil on your face."

Genos gives him a surprised look, bringing his hand to touch his cheek, and then staring at his fingertips.

Saitama goes ahead, holding the door open so that Genos won't have to touch anything. Not that his entire house hasn't already seen oil, mud, blood, and worse. His house isn't exactly any prettier on the inside, but it's not a complete wreck. He tries to keep things squared away, but that mostly means everything has its own pile. But he doesn't think it's that bad. It's just... lived in.

Saitama digs through his sink, searching for the dishrag... dishes, geez, another thing to get done... and rinses it with hot water, squeezing again and again until it's clean. Genos waits while Saitama lathers the cloth up with a little bit of soap, and then stands still, letting Saitama wipe the lingering oil stains off of his face.

It's a little unnerving to have Genos trust him so readily, and to have those black eyes watching him so intently. Saitama supposes he should say something to keep things light.

"It's nice not to have to carry you this time," Saitama says, letting out a soft laugh. "No offense."

"You must be very strong," Genos notes.

"You're not that heavy," Saitama says. "And I mostly dragged you," he adds, although they both know it isn't true and he's being too modest. He gives Genos a final dab under his eye. "There. You're all clean."

Genos blinks and then touches his face again, as if to somehow inspect the cleanliness, and his oily fingertips leave dark little marks.

"Agh! I forgot! Don't touch anything!"

"I'm sorry," Genos says, watching Saitama toss the dishrag aside.

"You don't have to be sorry, Genos. Just, come here and put your hands in the sink."

Genos obeys, putting his hands under the tap as Saitama turns on the water. While the water runs, Saitama digs under the sink, pulling out his favorite cheap degreaser and pouring it all over his own hands. For a second, Genos is confused, but then Saitama grabs the cyborg's hands and starts to wash them with his own, paying attention to every metal finger.

The feel of Saitama's hands on his is so startling, Genos isn't sure how to process it. He's never had anyone touch him before, at least not like this. It leaves him frozen in place, his fingers tingling, and he almost wonders if there is a physical problem, an exposed wire somewhere, but his system assures him everything is fine. He should stay still until Saitama is finished with him, but... it feels...

Genos twitches his fingers experimentally, hoping to brush against his master's skin by accident, when suddenly Saitama jerks away completely.

"Shit! I didn't even think to ask. Are you okay?"

Genos feels so confused. It's not as if his master should have to ask before touching him anyway he saw fit, but he didn't mind at all. But Saitama almost seems worried, as if he could have somehow hurt him.

"I'm fine."

"Because I know you aren't supposed to mix water and electronics," Saitama babbles, "But I didn't even think. Geez, I'm such an idiot."

Oh. So that's what he was talking about.

"I'm completely waterproof," Genos assures him.

"Thank goodness. I should've asked first. That could've been bad. Ugh," he shuts off the water and grabs a kitchen towel, wiping his own hands briefly and then taking Genos's hands in his own again, rubbing the towel against him with a natural care that nearly makes Genos tremble. "I don't know anything about cyborgs," Saitama mutters to himself. "I really shouldn't be taking care of one."

Saitama seems to be doing just fine taking care of him, Genos thinks, but keeps the words to himself. He's too overwhelmed with sensory input. When Saitama lets go of him, it's as much of a relief as a loss. There must be something wrong with his sensors. Genos quietly squeezes each of his own palms in turn, mentally recalibrating what a normal touch should feel like... Barely anything at all. His replaced hand isn't what's malfunctioning. Just himself.

Saitama wets the dishcloth again and wipes Genos's face clean for a second time.

"All clean," he says, at last, but then looks down at Genos's shirt and frowns. "I can wash your shirt later. The stains might not come out, though," Saitama tells him, while he puts the degreaser under the sink again. At least something is back in its rightful place. The rest of the house is a chaotic mess. "I've got to do the dishes anyway. Sweep the floors. Maybe mop. But I still have work to do outside so I don't know how much I'll get done," he says, sighing. "Euggh maybe tomorrow I'll have time to really clean. There's just so much to do every day and it never ends. But that's the beauty of it. You know?"

"I don't," Genos says, punctuated by Saitama's soft 'oh.' "The beauty of what?"

"Life, I guess," Saitama shrugs. "The sun rises every day, and the earth keeps turning. No matter what. Even if you wish it wouldn't."

Genos can't understand why anyone would wish this. "If it didn't, wouldn't that cause catastrophic world-wide disaster?"

Saitama gives Genos a strange look, and then laughs and slaps him hard on the shoulder, grinning. "Exactly! You just gotta think on the bright side!"

Genos stares after Saitama as the man walks off, watching him pick up stray items around the house and sorting them into relatively more appropriate places.

There's so much for Saitama to do alone.

Cleaning is not a function that Genos was intended for, but it's something that comes easily to him, almost naturally. He's used to his environment being clean and organized. He can redesignate himself to this purpose, he thinks... he hopes. If Genos can prove himself useful, Saitama will keep him.

The tiled floor is covered in big chunks of dirt from Saitama's boots and Genos sees his most obvious starting point. He kneels down, collecting clods of soil as well as he can with his metal fingers, but they keep breaking apart into smaller pieces.

"What are you doing?"

Genos looks up at Saitama, feeling caught for some reason. "There's dirt on the floor, so I'm picking up-"

"Dude, no," Saitama interrupts, squatting down to brush the dirt out of Genos's hands, and then tugs him back up to his feet. "I didn't bring you here to clean, you don't have to pick up after me, okay?"

"Yes, sir."

"And don't call me sir!"

"Yes, ma'am," Genos amends, without missing a beat.

Saitama gapes at the robot, trying to figure out if this guy is joking. "Do I look like a ma'am to you?!"

Genos only tilts his head at Saitama, perplexed. "You did say you are a mother..."

"That's not what that means!" Saitama cries. "Geez, how can you say stuff like that with such a serious face?!"

Genos squints at him. "You said you have two kids."

"I said kits! With a 'T'!" Saitama says, and then sighs. "Just... Come here, I'll show you!"

Genos follows Saitama to the living room, almost hesitant to head further into the house. Private living quarters were always strictly off limits, no matter what. It feels almost taboo to violate such a basic rule, even with permission.

Saitama lifts the blanket he left over his bunny box, pleased to see that his babies are looking snuggly and content. He's almost reluctant to move them, but he stoops down anyway to gather them into his hands, one at a time.

One of the rabbits lets out a squeak as he picks it up. "Shh it's fine," Saitama murmurs, keeping them secure in his hands. Saitama takes a moment to mentally note the weight of them - the chubby little things are growing so fast! - and then he brings them close to his chest, holding them as safely as possible.

Genos is staring at him with such a dumbfounded expression on his face, Saitama wants to laugh. He steps closer so Genos can see, and then lifts one of the bunnies toward him in offering. Its soft pink nose twitches as it comes towards him, and Genos skitters away so quickly, Saitama could have sworn the kid thought he was being handed a live grenade.

"It's not going to bite you," Saitama laughs, but then silently reconsiders that it might. After all, the rabbits have been trying to nibble on him. But if it nibbled on Genos, it'd be more likely to chip a tooth than ever hurt him.

"These are rabbits," Genos says.

"Yeah," Saitama agrees, surprised that Genos knows what rabbits are but he apparently didn't know how to use a seatbelt. It makes him realize that it will be hard to assume what Genos does and doesn't have knowledge of. "Baby rabbits are called kits. I'm taking care of them for now."

Genos tilts his head, and something shifts in his expression like understanding. "I see. When you said you had children, I assumed they would be biological, or at least the same species as yourself. But now I realize I misunderstood your meaning. You've developed an emotional attachment to these rabbits, and now you consider yourself their 'mother', as if they were your own offspring."

"Your jokes are terrible!" Saitama scolds, his face going red while Genos gives him a strange look. "At least laugh a little while making such a bad joke, or people will think you're being serious!"

"I didn't realize I was joking," Genos says. "I'm not entirely sure I understand what that is yet."

"Well then, I guess your poor sense of humor can't be helped," Saitama says, his face still flush. "We'll work on it."

Genos is quiet while Saitama shifts the bunnies in his arms, suddenly a little self-conscious. He knows he owes Genos something more than that weak deflection.

"I don't actually think I'm their mother," Saitama says. "I just meant that since they have no mother, I'm filling that role. Feeding them, taking care of them, like their mom would. Um, I guess that's kind of an example of what a joke is. Me calling myself their 'mom'. It's a joke. Because I'm not. I'm not a rabbit. Or a mom... Jokes are generally funnier if you don't have to explain them," Saitama concludes awkwardly.

"I understand now," Genos says. "I apologize for not understanding jokes. I will try to 'work on it'."

"You're fine, Genos," Saitama says, feeling a knot in his gut that is suspiciously like guilt. It's too easy to let Genos take the blame, when anyone else would call him out on his obvious bullshit. It's not like Genos even did anything wrong. Saitama did call himself their mom, so it's only his own fault if he feels embarrassed about it.

"I'll work on explaining things better," Saitama says, his mouth already dry at the very idea. No one has ever accused him of being a conversationalist. In general, Saitama has found that the more he speaks, the less likely it is for anyone to like him. He's already spoken more to Genos today than everyone else he interacted with last year combined, and the majority of the time he's opened his mouth, he's been a jerk to him. The realization makes his skin itch. First he was curt with Genos because Kuseno set him on edge, and now he's saying mean things to him just because he was a little embarrassed. But both times, it's not like Kuseno or Genos were wrong about what they said to him.

It's been too long since Saitama has had real company, and he's starting to remember why he lived alone in the first pace. Why he deserves to be alone.

But Genos doesn't seem to fully recognize Saitama's rude behavior. It gives Saitama some relief, but also plenty more guilt, as if he were taking advantage somehow. Part of him wonders if maybe he could still get this right. Another part worries that Genos lacks the ability to recognize that he might be better off without him. Truly, there aren't many options for Genos, but it doesn't have to be Saitama. Kuseno, at least, would understand how to physically care for Genos. Hell, he'd be better at emotionally caring for him as well. The man is almost infuriatingly insightful and patient. Kuseno understands people. Saitama can't say the same. He doesn't even understand himself. All he understands are animals, and the land he lives on, and he still wouldn't call himself an expert on either one.

The thing is, Genos had the choice, and Genos chose Saitama. It was a bad choice, Saitama thinks, distractedly stroking the warm fur in his arms, but for now, that's how it is. He needs to do his best, because Genos isn't just a guest, he's in his care.

"I rescue animals," Saitama says, briefly looking at Genos and then down at the little rabbits in his arms to avoid that intense stare. "It's just something I do for fun. Usually it's birds, or squirrels. I'll find them injured on the ground. These little guys lost their mom. I brought them in only a couple days ago. They were a lot skinnier then."

Genos finds himself staring at Saitama, noticing the way his face goes soft when he looks at the rabbits, the way his master's strong fingers ruffle their fur over and over again, the motion automatic and gentle. It grips him with some sudden, strange feeling that is almost frightening for its intensity.

He tries to ignore the feeling and focus only on the sound of Saitama's voice. Hearing his master speak is soothing, but the sound of his voice, and listening to Saitama talk about injured birds, reminds Genos of how he too was found injured on the ground.

The storm is still vivid in his memory -- the pouring rain and vicious winds. The way the sky tore itself open with every bolt of lighting crackling through the darkness. The way the lightning tore him open. His core overloading. The smell of his own internal components burning. He remembers lying there, unable to move, his systems running on emergency power just to keep oxygen going to his brain. He could feel everything, from his smoldering body sending screaming signals to his brain, to the rain falling onto his face, until it was all just white noise. It felt like an eternity before he saw the morning sunlight filtering through the leaves, highlighting their veins. Genos remembers listening to his own systems struggling to keep running, and knowing that he would die there soon. He remembers Saitama's voice speaking to him, gentle, reassuring, telling him he would be okay now, that he was there to help. The unexpected strength when Saitama picked him up into his arms. He had never felt so unmoored, and so safe. Rescued. He can still feel Saitama's fingers brushing against his face, stroking his hair, squeezing his hands.

That strange feeling is even stronger, and it isn't a nice one. It makes him feel like his insides are burnt up again.

"Do you want to pet them?" Saitama asks.

Startled, Genos looks up to see Saitama quietly laughing at him.

"They won't hurt you. And you're not going to break them," Saitama assures him, stepping closer. "Go on."

Genos has no desire to pet the rabbits, but Saitama's hand is right there on top of them. He reaches out, hesitant about what he wants to do, and settles for what Saitama told him to do instead, caressing fur instead of skin. The rabbits are so soft, so small, that it's hard to gauge the appropriate amount of pressure. It would be too easy to break them, he realizes, and knows he wants nothing to do with them. Before he withdraws, however, Genos pets them one last time, deliberately letting his fingers brush over Saitama's at the end of his stroke. It's only a slight touch, but he pulls away immediately, feeling a brief, illicit thrill for what he's just done.

"You did fine," Saitama laughs again, apparently oblivious to the touch.

Genos can't help but feel both disappointed and intrigued by Saitama's reaction, or lack thereof. Entering someone's private quarters, even with permission, was a grave offense, as was touching anyone else for any reason.

But here those rules don't seem to exist.

The rabbits are returned to their home, and Saitama puts the blanket over the box again, this time leaving a large portion of it open.

"I think it's time for lunch," Saitama says, rubbing his belly. "What do you eat, anyway? Petrol?"

"I eat normal food."

Saitama's eyes widen. "You must be starving then!"

"I don't require much," Genos assures him. "I have a synthetic digestive system to provide my brain with essential nutrients. The rest of my body is powered by my core."

"Cool. Oh... Do I have to plug you in at night?" Saitama asks.

"That would be unnecessary. My core has enough energy to keep me powered for the next..." Genos pauses, doing mental calculations. "45 years, more or less, depending on how much energy I expend in an average day. After that time I will likely need a replacement."

"Oh. Okay," Saitama rubs his bare head. "Remind me when that comes up."

"Will you still be alive then, Master?"

"Well... shit," Saitama's face crumples at such a dark question. "I don't know, man. I hope so. Anything can happen, I guess."

"Because the average human only lives for 80 years and you are already very old..."

"I'm 25!" Saitama interrupts.

Genos blinks at him. "But... that would mean you're bald despite being so young?"

"How old did you think I was?!" Saitama cries, his eyes wide with indignation.

Wisely, Genos keeps his mouth shut and doesn't answer the question.

"Dude..." Saitama claps both hands against his face, rubbing his eyes and then dropping his hands back to his sides. "You are something else."

"It was an obvious mistake. I should have known better," Genos says, in what seems to be some kind of backwards apology. "An elderly man would have never been able to have the strength to lift me-"

"Hey!" Saitama interrupts. "I'll still be able to pick up your scrawny metal butt when I'm old and wrinkly! Just wait and see!"

"Okay," Genos says, Saitama's exaggerated claims going completely over his head. "We'll see then."

They stare at each other for a long moment. Genos is so serious, Saitama can't even handle it. He bursts out laughing, ruining the mock-tension of the moment, but Genos just tilts his head at him, not quite understanding how to react. This kid would have such a wonderfully dry sense of humor, if only he even knew what that meant. Saitama suddenly hopes that one day he'll be able to teach Genos how to joke. The thought is accompanied by a weird twinge in his chest. He finds himself pressing a hand against his own ribcage, trying to make the odd feeling go away.

"Since we're onto personal questions now, how old are you?" Saitama asks, searching for something else to focus on. Judging from Genos's appearance, he'd say he's definitely supposed to be a young adult, but he couldn't be older than him. He expects an answer anywhere from eighteen to early twenties.

"I was commissioned four years ago," Genos says.

That definitely isn't the answer Saitama expected.

"What does that mean? Commissioned?"

"Created?" Genos says, but he sounds a little unsure himself.

"Like, when your body was built or when..." Saitama trails off as the implication of what Genos just told him sinks in. Saitama has heard that the cloning process is quick, but he'd never actually had to think about what that meant before. There's a world of difference between vaguely knowing about something, and having the reality of it directly in front of you. He also knows there's a war going on, but that isn't at his doorstep. Saitama still isn't entirely sure why Genos is.

"Okay," Saitama says brightly, the abruptness of his voice surprising even himself. He claps his hands together and gives Genos a tight smile. "Let's find something to eat!"

x

Chapter Text

Genos is quiet, trailing after Saitama and watching with curiosity while the older man opens up different cupboards in the kitchen.

"How about gyudon?" Saitama suggests when he sees rice. "Ah, wait. I don't have any beef. Man, I haven't got much of anything, actually," he says, upon opening a cupboard only to find it completely empty except for a container of powdered lemonade mix. He grabs it, realizing that he hasn't bothered to use the mix in a while. It's not expired, but he has to gently bang the container against the counter to loosen up the powder again. "Have you ever had lemonade, Genos?"

"No."

"I'll make a pitcher," Saitama says, setting it down and searching through more cupboards. He's contemplating a package of noodles when Genos picks up the container of lemonade mix and opens it, peering inside.

"You can eat this?" Genos asks, sounding skeptical.

"No, dude, you drink it."

Genos gives him a concerned look and replaces the lid. "How do you drink something so dry?"

"You have to mix it with water. It just adds flavor," Saitama explains. "Hey, do you like carrots and onions?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Cool, then we get to find out," Saitama says with a smile, plopping the package of noodles onto the counter.

For the next thirty minutes, Genos watches, perplexed, while Saitama boils water and cuts vegetables. Saitama gives him little tasks, fetch different cooking spoons and seasonings, and Genos is more than happy to help, searching through various cupboards and drawers with a single-minded focus.

"Is this the salt? There is no label..."

"Yeah, dude. Good job."

"Thank you, Master! What can I do next?"

For a minute, Saitama has to take a mental break, suddenly hit by how surreal it feels to have a cyborg peering over his shoulder while he cooks. He hasn't even had to make a meal for anyone in ages.

"Hey, can you... go make sure the rabbits are still in their box? And breathing?" Saitama asks, purely for the sake of giving Genos something to do besides stare, and so he can have a second of space.

"Yes, Master," Genos nods and immediately leaves to carry out his order.

"Way too serious," Saitama mutters to himself, using his stolen moment to simply take a breath and roll his shoulders, trying to shake off some tension. It's kind of endearing, how eager Genos is to help, but at the same time it makes Saitama feel strange to order him around. For now, he doesn't mind giving Genos some much-needed direction, but he doesn't like the idea of Genos just mindlessly obeying him, unable to make the simplest decisions for himself. He isn't sure if he can handle that.

"The spotted rabbit was sitting on top of the brown one so I put it in the corner and told it to behave," Genos informs Saitama when he returns to the kitchen. Only when Saitama gives him a vaguely concerned look, he adds, "They are both in the box. And breathing."

"Okay. Food's done. Grab a couple bowls."

While Genos gathers the dishes, Saitama clears off his little dining room table so they can have a proper place to sit down and eat. There's a weird sense of accomplishment when Genos joins him, setting their places. It's been an age since Saitama shared a meal with someone, much less cooked with someone, and it's actually nicer than he thought it'd be.

"Thanks for helping," Saitama says, because he's pretty sure that's what he should do. "Take a seat, I'll get the food."

Genos cautiously takes a seat, and Saitama serves them both a heap of steaming noodles mixed with chopped carrots and onions, and then plops down in his own chair and starts digging in.

Genos is slower with his food, and it's hard not to notice. Saitama catches himself watching Genos while he eats. For some reason, Saitama half expected Genos to eat in some bizarre way, like through a secret hatch or inhaling food like a vacuum cleaner. Where those ideas came from, he isn't even sure, but his imagination is pretty vivid sometimes, if his weird dreams are any indication. But the only thing odd about the way Genos eats is how awkward he is at it, like he's never had noodles before.

Half of the food doesn't make it to his mouth, but Genos doesn't seem to care. He reminds Saitama of a kid only learning to eat for the first time, clumsy but too fascinated by the novelty of the process to be frustrated by it.

On the next attempt, Genos manages to gather a big clump of noodles, only for all but one to drop back into his bowl before he can get them in his mouth.

Saitama snorts in amusement, and then quickly covers his mouth and pretends to be eating when Genos looks up. He feels bad for laughing, but instead of being embarrassed or angry, Genos smiles at him.

"Uhm... How is it?" Saitama asks, timing his question poorly just as Genos tries to take another bite.

"It's good. Thank you, Master," Genos blurts out, heedless of the noodles that immediately slip away from him and drop onto the table. Genos blinks, staring at the fallen noodles and then tries again, visibly trying to concentrate on his task.

Saitama leaves him to it for a while, both eating in silence, and pretty soon Genos is at least able to stop dropping everything, even if his table manners would be considered lacking in more polite company. Every now and then he simply grabs stray noodles or pieces of carrot with his fingers, and then realizes Saitama has seen him do it and ducks his head a little, caught. After the third time, they both stare at each other and then laugh, and Genos is more liberal in using whatever means necessary to finish his meal, table manners be damned. It makes Saitama like him a lot more.

"There's a lot left over," Saitama notes while they're finishing up. He could be finished eating already, but he's slowed down, giving Genos time to catch up. "We can finish this up for dinner. Sorry it's not the most amazing meal. I'll make a list and go grocery shopping tomorrow."

"Does food always look like this?" Genos questions, catching Saitama off guard.

"What do you mean? Like, noodles? Or...?"

"In pieces," Genos says, poking at his noodles and then a carrot, as if to give example. "And colors."

"What did the food you used to eat look like?" Saitama asks instead, feeling wary about the answer.

"Mud," Genos says, matter-of fact.

"They made you eat mud," Saitama repeats, deadpan.

"It was 'enriched'," Genos says, as if that explains everything. "But it wasn't as nice as this."

"I can imagine," Saitama snorts, and makes a mental note to get something special at the store. There's always something on sale, and he's determined to show Genos what food is really supposed to look like.

Saitama eats his last bite and then brings his bowl to the sink. While Genos finishes up, he puts the leftovers into the fridge and returns with a damp dish cloth.

"You done?"

Genos nods, and Saitama takes his bowl for him and wipes off the table. He wants to put his hand over his face when he sees the new stains on Genos's shirt. White was not a wise choice, apparently.

"We'll go shopping tomorrow," Saitama announces, putting Genos's bowl in the sink and starting the hot water. "Groceries... all the basics, I think. We'll check out the thrift store first, though. You need clothes. I have old shirts but I don't think any of my pants would fit you. And while we're out, we might as well get supplies for the rabbits. They're growing really fast. I think they'll be ready to start eating solid food soon, and we'll need hay for them to nibble on."

Genos comes to stand beside him, watching Saitama soap up the dishes.

"What will you name them?" Genos questions.

"Name them?"

"The rabbits. Have you decided what to call them yet?"

Saitama laughs as he sets a clean dish aside to dry. "No, no. I never name the animals," Saitama says, shaking his head in refusal. "If you name something, you end up getting attached to it and keeping it."

Genos pauses, a frown on his face that Saitama doesn't see.

"You don't keep them?"

"No way! If I kept everything I rescued, I wouldn't have room to breathe in this house!" Saitama laughs. "I only keep them as long as it takes for them to get better, and as soon as they're ready, I let them go again." He glances at Genos, and is a little surprised by the expression on Genos's face. "It's better that way, honestly," he reassures him. "They're wild animals, not pets. They aren't meant for a domestic life. It's best for them to go back to where they belong."

"I see," Genos says, keeping his voice perfectly even.

Saitama finishes the dishes quickly and then, as he grabs a towel to dry his hands, notices the lemonade mix still sitting on the counter. "Shit. I forgot to make it. Are you thirsty, Genos?"

"No."

"Okay. I'll make some later and you can try it then if you want. I've got some work to do outside first."

"I'll help you," Genos says immediately.

"Dude... I... appreciate it..." but I need some time alone, Saitama thinks, and instantly feels stupid as well as guilty, because having Genos's strength would probably be a tremendous help. But in a way, it would also feel kind of like cheating somehow. Saitama has always been a 'shoulder to the wheel' kind of person, finding reward in accomplishing hard work. Even if he doesn't manage to do very much of it at once.

Besides, Genos doesn't seem to really operate unless someone is telling him what to do and Saitama isn't ready for more of that today. It feels shitty for him to keep giving Genos bullshit tasks just to keep him out of his hair (figuratively speaking), like throwing a stick to a dog over and over again. He needs time to figure out what he's going to do.

"How about you just relax for a while?" Saitama suggests. "I know you wanna help, but you've been through a lot lately and I don't want you doing anything until you've had some time to settle in and get used to it here. Okay?"

"Yes, Master," Genos agrees, without protest.

"I'll be right outside if you need me," Saitama says. "Make yourself at home. Just don't break anything."

Genos nods and watches while Saitama leaves. He's still standing there when Saitama comes back inside five minutes later to grab some tools.

"Dude... You can go sit down on the couch," Saitama tells him, and then waits, shooing him on until Genos reluctantly goes and sits down.

For the next hour or so, Genos sits on the couch, his boredom only slightly relieved by Saitama's occasional trip back into the house, and by using his enhanced senses to track Saitama's movements around the yard and anticipate when he will return. It's almost entertaining, but after a while the trips back stop altogether. It seems like Saitama is finally deep into his work and won't be coming inside for a while.

The house is incredibly quiet. Genos can hear the rabbits squirming around in their box, making soft noises. He can hear the hum of electricity from the refrigerator, and the drip of a slow leak coming from a faucet.

It's almost maddening.

Being told to stay idle while not in use is normal, but sitting around was a lot easier when he preferred not to be put to work.

Right now, he's desperate to work. To prove to Saitama that he should stay.

He never even knew that it could be possible to end up under the care of someone so kind, or that he might be allowed to do other tasks than what he was explicitly designed for. Right now he just wants to make a good impression and prove to his new master that he's worth keeping around, and that isn't going to be possible if he isn't allowed to do anything.

But he was told to sit still. To relax.

Genos doesn't really know the meaning of the word. Humans need to rest after work, but Genos doesn't. Aside from sleep cycles, rest for a cyborg only means idling in between tasks. So he idles. But he keeps wondering when his master will give him commands to let him do other things.

And then Genos realizes that his master already has.

Saitama had told him to relax for a while. There was no specified length of time. Saitama had left that up to Genos's own judgement.

His head perks up at the revelation. Has it been 'a while' enough yet? Genos feels ready to work, and he's sure that his master was only worried about stressing him too soon. He really is kind.

What else had Saitama said? Saitama told Genos to settle in, get used to the house, make himself at home. Suddenly it all makes sense. While they made lunch, Saitama had been asking Genos to find things for him from the kitchen. That must be one of the tasks Saitama will expect of him, and was his way of getting Genos to learn where everything was. He can't be useful to Saitama until he's been properly trained, and that must start with learning his master's home from top to bottom.

Genos rises to his feet, renewed with purpose, and feeling foolish for being so slow to realize. He'll get better at this. The sooner he 'settles in' the sooner he can start helping his master.

Genos begins right at the front door, and starts mentally taking notes. The front half of the house is divided evenly with the kitchen on one side, and a dining area on the other. He goes to the kitchen first, and devotes himself to memorizing every detail -- opening every single cupboard and learning what Saitama has and where it's kept. Much of it is still memorized from helping Saitama cook earlier, but this time he's more thorough. He'll make Saitama proud.

To his right, there's a dining area and a set of stairs that go up to an overhead loft. A small dining table sits in the middle of the floor, one that Genos suspects has probably been used as a workspace more often than a place to eat, judging by how much junk Saitama had to clear away earlier. Most of that junk is now piled on a spare chair, and on the floor. There's a window beside the dining table, and under the stairs there's another door, which upon investigation Genos discovers leads down into a cellar.

The back end of the house is divided into the living room, and two walled-off rooms. The first is a bathroom, with a door that faces into the dining area. The second room is almost hidden, because Genos has to walk into the living room before he notices the door. The only piece of furniture in there is a desk, pressed against the back wall, but the rest of the space is absolutely cluttered with different odds and ends - boxes of old books and magazines, tools, truck parts, gardening supplies, bird cages, and forgotten clothing.

There are so many things that Genos has never seen before and doesn't understand the purpose of; it's almost overwhelming. But instead of making him nervous, it only makes him feel excited. Already he has a mental list of things to ask Saitama about, so he can learn.

But first, there's one more space that is still left unexplored, and Genos is determined to visit it before Saitama returns. He pauses in the dining room, using his senses to reassure himself that Saitama is still deeply preoccupied outside, and then starts up the stairs, slowly at first to make sure they'll hold his weight. Halfway up, Genos can see into the loft, and spots the edge of a bed. It makes him halt in his tracks, gripping onto the railing to steady his trembling hand.

This is where Saitama sleeps.

It's against the rules to enter someone's private quarters. The gravest offense. As serious as touching someone. It's never allowed under any circumstances.

But Genos has already been invited into Saitama's private quarters. The entire house is his personal space, filled with his belongings, more items than Genos ever knew someone could be allowed to own. Genos had even touched Saitama's hand and there was no reprimand. Being allowed to walk freely through Saitama's space makes Genos almost feel light-headed with a strange euphoria. Everything he knew no longer matters. The rules don't exist here. He won't be decommissioned.

Even so, Genos is still trembling with anxiety as he forces himself up the last flight of stairs. As soon as he steps foot into the loft, Genos feels like he might be caught at any moment, even though he knows for a fact that Saitama is outside. It feels wrong, somehow, despite the fact that Saitama gave him permission to make himself at home.

The loft is fairly large, spanning across the back half of the house and overlooking the kitchen and dining room area. There is a window on the back wall, and a skylight on the roof, letting in natural light during the day, but Genos can't take his eyes off of the bed. He's seen some before, but they were always colorless and pulled so tight that the sheets seemed as stiff as boards. Saitama's bed is unmade, covered in rumpled green sheets and two mismatched pillows, deep red and sky blue. There's a blanket, dotted in tiny hearts and birds, and in that instant he isn't sure whether to laugh or cry because he's never seen anything so strangely wonderful.

Without thinking, only needing to confirm that what he's seeing is real, Genos grabs fistfuls of the blanket. The tactile confirmation does little to quell the overwhelming surreality of the moment. Saitama's bed looks so soft and lumpy and Genos had never imagined he'd ever sleep in one. He can't wait to know how it feels, so he goes ahead and climbs onto it, sinking bonelessly against the mattress.

For a long moment, he simply lies still, trying to put any sort of description to this feeling, and failing. He has no basis of comparison. However, it occurs to him, this might be what humans mean by relax.

After a while, Genos repositions himself, moving further up the bed and letting his head rest on one of his master's pillows. When he breathes in, it smells like clean soap and fresh earth -- like Saitama.

Genos closes his eyes and tries to imagine what it'll be like when Saitama is actually beside him tonight. The bed is somewhat small, which is preferable for Genos because there is no doubt at all in his mind that he and Saitama should be pressed together, flank to flank. He only wonders what it'll be like to feel flesh instead of metal, and whether Saitama is restless in his sleep.

Above him, the skylight cuts a piece of bright, endless blue sky into the dark, slanted roof. It makes him feel strange... detached... like with nothing weighing him down, he could somehow fall up into that endless expanse.

Genos sits upright at once and goes back downstairs, suddenly needing to be closer to Saitama. He's still working, of course, but Genos knows he'll be finished soon, and when Saitama returns, Genos would like to have something to show to prove to him that he can learn quickly and be of invaluable use to his new master.

This is where he belongs now, not where he came from or where he was found. He'll be obedient, perfect, if that's what it takes to ensure that Saitama won't ever want to make him go. He'll be better than he ever was before. No more malfunctioning. No more fire. Not ever.

x

Chapter Text

The sun is getting low when Saitama finally realizes how long he's been working outside. He's running out of energy, out of things he can do within one evening, and very shortly, he'll be out of daylight hours as well. With a twinge of guilt, he remembers that Genos has been alone in the house, presumably waiting for him all of this time.

Saitama wipes the dirt off of his hands and walks back to the porch.

The house isn't on fire, and Saitama hasn't heard any conspicuous crashes, so he'll take that as a promising start. Honestly, he wouldn't be surprised if he came in to find a mess, or if he caught the cyborg getting into something that he shouldn't. He'd expect the same from any other rescue that he left to roam around. Not that Genos is an animal by any means, but he's a living thing with free will and curiosity is only natural.

Instead, he finds Genos cleaning. The cyborg is in the kitchen, rag in hand, trying to scrub an old discoloration out of the counter next to the sink.

Saitama stares at him with a weird sense of déjà vu. He almost wishes that he had caught Genos eating everything in the fridge, or jumping on the couch, or even tearing something up. Cleaning is just so... weird. Concerning, somehow.

"You don't have to do that, you know," Saitama says, as he turns on the faucet and starts rinsing the dirt off of his hands.

"I would like to do this for you, Master," Genos assures him, halting his work for a moment to address Saitama properly, straightening up and squaring his shoulders, his black eyes unblinking on Saitama in the most unsettling way. Saitama drops his head and pretends to be focused on the dirt under his nails.

"I finished 'relaxing'," Genos explains. "I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with the house, and I'm ready to begin working right away. Some tasks may require further instruction, but I am a fast learner and I intend to make myself as useful to you as possible."

Saitama is quiet as he turns off the faucet, and then finds the towel to dry his hands. He stares at the counter top, where Genos's rag still rests. "I mean... you don't have to scrub the counter. It's already clean. You'll wear a hole in it before that stain comes out."

Genos blinks in surprise, looking at the counter to inspect it. "I see! You are so knowledgeable, Master. I'll do my best to learn from you."

"Okay," Saitama mumbles, wondering if Genos will keep calling him 'Master' forever, and if he'll ever get used to it.

In the meantime, he's still hot from working all afternoon and he could use something to drink. Now would be a good time to make that lemonade. But when he goes to the counter where he left it, it's gone. And the cupboard is bare.

"Genos, did you put the lemonade container somewhere?" Saitama asks, trying not to feel frustrated.

"Yes, it's in the trash," Genos informs him, matter-of-factly.

Something shorts out in Saitama's brain. He's too baffled to even be angry. "Why is it in the trash? I was going to use that."

"I made it for you already," Genos says, and a moment later he pulls a pitcher of lemonade out of the refrigerator. "I wanted it to be cold when you came inside, so I added ice that I found in the freezer. I hope that's acceptable."

It takes a solid two seconds to wrap his head around the fact that Genos made the lemonade himself, but the sight of it almost makes Saitama feel like he's dreaming. It's not his beat-up, cheap plastic pitcher, for one. This one is glass, the one that his mother passed on to him. He hasn't been able to find it in ages, and the last time he’d seen it, it wasn't this crystal clear. The vibrant color of the lemonade, and dozen ice cubes clinking against the glass make it look like something out of a magazine. His mouth is already watering at the sight of the beaded moisture on the outside of the ice cold container.

"I- yeah, that's more than acceptable," Saitama says.

"You can sit down and rest, if you like," Genos says. "I'll bring you a glass. I know where they are now," he adds, sounding proud of himself.

"Okay," Saitama relents easily this time, and goes into the living room to sit down.

Genos serving him is still weird, but Saitama really doesn't want to press the issue, especially since Genos seemed so genuinely pleased to do this for him. He really is tired, and it's surprisingly nice to have a refreshing drink waiting for him. Saitama only hopes that Genos doesn't feel like this is something he has to do in order to stay. He's already told Genos a few times, but the cyborg still seems a little high strung. At this point, Saitama supposes it's a matter of giving Genos some time to realize he's in a different environment and calm down. If he has to remind Genos again later, then he'll do that.

Right now, Saitama is contemplating the very fact that Genos took the time to make lemonade for him. He had been worried that living with Genos might be a little unbearable, if the cyborg was only capable of following his orders. But he'd told Genos to relax, and Genos supposedly did that, and then went further ahead on his own to start learning the lay of the house, and cleaning, and making him food. Even if it was as simple as adding water, it was still impressive to him. He's never heard of cyborgs that could take those extra steps to anticipate new skills they'd need and teach themselves without being explicitly instructed. He's certainly never heard of a cyborg that could successfully operate so far outside of its intended purpose, especially on its own initiative, but Genos also seems to be incredibly advanced.

When Genos enters the room and hands him his glass, either by random chance, or logical conclusion, it happens to be his favorite glass to drink out of.

There's a now-familiar twinge of guilt returning to the pit of his stomach. He has to admit to himself that any hesitation he felt about having Genos around, is purely his own inability to properly interact with people, and not any shortcoming on Genos's part. He's already made an effort, and now Saitama has to do the same.

"Thank you," Saitama says, taking the glass. It feels so cold and lovely in his hand. He tips back a long gulp to sate his heated thirst... and immediately regrets his choices when the incredibly potent lemon flavor hits his tongue. He manages to only half-choke and then catch himself, somehow calmly swallowing the lemonade despite it burning up his throat. Instead of refreshing him, his mouth feels raw and dry, and all he can taste is sour. He'd almost think Genos was trying to kill him, but Genos watches him the entire time, with eager anticipation for his reaction.

"Is it good?"

"Um..." Saitama swallows again, but there isn't enough saliva in his mouth to provide relief yet. "It's really strong."

Genos smiles. "The instructions said to add a cup of the mix, but I wanted it to be more flavorful for you, so I used the entire container."

"It certainly is flavorful. Thanks," Saitama adds, taking another tiny sip. This time the lemonade is slightly more bearable, diluted by melting ice, but his mouth is not forgiving him just yet.

"You're welcome, Master," Genos says, and then starts to walk away to the kitchen.

"W-wait," Saitama has to flail a hand to stop Genos from rushing off, and nearly spills his drink in the process. "You can sit down for a while, you know."

Genos looks hesitant. "I should finish cleaning."

"Okay... you can do that later if you really want but, I," Saitama scratches his head, finding himself staring at the floor. "I kind of wanted to talk to you."

"If I am failing in certain tasks, please correct me, and tell me your expectations, so I can learn them," Genos blurts out.

"Dude, no, that's not what I was gonna say. Sit down," Saitama says. He expects Genos to sit beside him on the couch, but instead Genos sits down on the floor in front of him, resting on his knees, his back rigid in proper posture. Geez, this kid.

"I wanted to apologize," Saitama says, forcing himself to put it out there before his mind changes again. "I'm sorry for how I was earlier. For snapping at you, and just... kind of coming off as a jerk."

"I don't know what you mean," Genos says. Saitama almost isn't sure if he's being sarcastic, but as usual, the kid sounds honest, and a little confused. For a moment, Saitama wonders if that means Genos genuinely believes that it's fine for someone to talk to him the way Saitama had, but Saitama shakes the thought out of his head before it can get under his skin.

"It doesn't matter. I didn't mean to sound like such an asshole, but I did, and I'm sorry about that. I just... I know it's not an excuse and I'm not gonna pretend it is, but, I'm... not really used to talking to people. Not this much, anyway. I'm bad at it," Saitama adds quietly. For a moment, the words evaporate from him, his throat feeling drier than before, until he actually takes another small sip of the lemonade to soothe it. Genos is quiet, and Saitama is a little thankful for it. "Kuseno just got me in a bad mood I guess," he admits. "I know he meant well but I didn't like what he was saying about you."

"What did he say?" Genos questions, even though he had heard everything in the old man's house.

"That stuff about you, that you had weapons and stuff," Saitama mumbles.

"I do have weapons," Genos says. I am a weapon, he thinks.

"Yeah, but..." Saitama shifts uncomfortably, his sweat starting to cool and dry on his skin. "It was what he was implying. That you might've been in the war."

"I was."

Saitama lifts his head at that, catching Genos's gaze straight on. He stares at Genos in disbelief, his mind reeling slightly about what that means. He had suspected, but he'd thought that maybe... hopefully... Genos was only created for the war. It didn't have to mean he was actually in it. He's so young. So enthusiastic in weird, innocent little ways. He couldn't have possibly participated in that. There'd be some sign, he would have noticed... but Genos was so destroyed from the lightning strike, maybe any damage from war wouldn't have been obvious.

He tries to read the truth from Genos's face, expecting that same open honesty if Genos didn't see much of the horrors of war, or a hardness or fear in his eyes if he did. Instead, Genos's expression is all too perfectly devoid of emotion, and it chills him more than he thought possible, forcing him to look away.

Suddenly, the weird behavior from Genos makes a lot of sense. The skittishness, the eagerness to please, the way that Genos readily expects to be given orders and shitty treatment, and the way he almost becomes nervous without structure.

How the hell does someone like Genos end up in the war.

How the hell does someone in the war end up in Saitama's woods?

The fighting is so far away, people around here can sleep safely at night knowing they'll never see it. It only exists as some vague concept, one that few truly worry about, because there's no doubt about who has the greater power. There is no question of who will win, only how long it will take. Saitama has overheard a few conversations about the war, some with the opinion that it should be settled faster with a few bombs, and others questioning the morality of it, saying that the fighting never should have started in the first place. Most folks just don't want to talk about it at all, and Saitama is among them.

But whether the war is right or not, whether it's near or not, and whether Saitama wants to think about it or not, it is still very real.

"That would make you a deserter," Saitama says.

"Are you going to turn me in?" Genos asks him.

Saitama laughs softly, wondering how Genos could really ask him that kind of a question. After everything he's done to save Genos's life, there's no way in hell he'd betray him like that. "I might if you don't get me some more ice," Saitama jokes, swirling his glass.

It's a shitty joke, but Saitama didn't think that Genos would spring to his feet, with a 'Yes, Sir' and go fetch the damn ice.

Genos disappears before Saitama can even say anything to stop him.

A wave of nausea hits him and Saitama sets his glass aside on a small table and puts his head in his hands, feeling disgusted with himself.

When Genos returns a moment later to fill his drink with ice, Saitama catches him by the wrist.

"I was kidding, you know," Saitama says, searching Genos's eyes, but the cyborg doesn't look at him. "I would never turn you in. If they come looking for you, I'll help you hide somehow. I'll tell them you're mine now. I'll fucking fight them. I won't let them take you."

Genos's emotionless facade cracks very slightly, his lips pinching tightly together for a moment. "They won't look for me," he finally says.

"But if they do," Saitama persists. "I promise. They're not taking you."

Genos stares at Saitama for a moment, but Saitama meets his eye, unflinching in this conviction. This time, Genos breaks the gaze first, his eyes falling shut, and that emotionless mask finally softens, a tension leaving his body. He looks younger somehow, and so tired. "Thank you."

Genos flexes his hand in Saitama's grip and only then Saitama remembers that he's still holding onto him, and lets him go. He stands up, taking the ice tray from Genos and cracking it so he can plop an excessive amount of ice into his glass, until it nearly overflows.

"I'm gonna take a shower, and then we can have dinner," Saitama says. "Okay?"

"Okay," Genos agrees, nodding weakly.

Saitama gives him a friendly tap on the shoulder and walks off, already tugging his shirt off over his head as he leaves, unaware that he is being watched intently.

 

//

 

Half an hour later, Saitama emerges from the bathroom, towel tied around his waist and skin still damp. On his way upstairs to grab clothes, he notices Genos sitting on the kitchen floor, knees to his chest, staring at his hands.

Quietly, Saitama takes a detour to go see what's wrong. He nudges Genos with his foot to get his attention.

"You okay?"

"Yes. I'm functioning perfectly," Genos says, but his voice is strange, almost like he's in disbelief. For some reason, Saitama can relate to that emotion all too well.

"Okay. Um, if you're ever not, you know you can let me know and Kuseno will fix you up," Saitama reminds him, just in case.

"I know. Thank you," Genos says, still in that hollow tone of voice, like his mind is entirely elsewhere. Then after a moment, he furrows his brow, blinking, as if returning to reality, and turns his head to look at Saitama. "You're naked."

"Yes. Yes, I am."

"Why?"

"Because I just got out of the shower, dude. People don't shower with their clothes on."

"I've never seen anyone naked before," Genos says, sounding so flustered, Saitama can't help but find it amusing, especially since he actually has a towel on.

"Well, this is a little-known secret but, I'm always naked," Saitama teases. "Under my clothes," he adds as he walks away, laughing at the bad joke, and also at the sour expression that scrunches up on Genos's face.

"That doesn't even make any sense!" Genos shouts after him, and Saitama laughs even harder.

A couple minutes later, Saitama comes back downstairs, dressed in pajama bottoms and a comfortable t-shirt. It's already dark outside, and Saitama knows that it's been a long day, especially for Genos, so it won't hurt to go to bed early tonight. He tosses a spare t-shirt aside, and returns to the kitchen.

"Can you get two bowls of food ready for us?" Saitama asks, opening the refrigerator and taking out a container.

"Yes, Sir," Genos says, rising to his feet, the dutiful servant once again, and Saitama raises an eyebrow to himself at the sudden change. It feels artificial, and part of him is a little concerned that whatever glimmer of personality he's just witnessed a minute ago has been pushed back under this veneer.

He resists the urge to say anything about it, and focuses on mixing more of the formula he needs to feed the kits. He's low on that too, and grabs a pen and pad of paper to start jotting down some of the things he needs to remember when they're out shopping tomorrow.

Genos finishes his task first, and watches Saitama finish mixing the formula, curiosity evident on his face.

"All done? Good job, Genos," Saitama says, setting aside the formula for now. "Want to learn something new?"

"Yes, Master!"

Saitama picks up their bowls and shows Genos how to use the microwave.

"So now you know how it works, you can use it any time you want. Just remember to never put anything metal in it, or it'll explode," Saitama warns him.

"My hands are made of metal," Genos says, finding an alarming flaw with this plan.

"While it's running, I mean. It can't run while the door is open. You'll be fine," Saitama assures him, but Genos doesn't seem so sure.

They eat dinner in near-silence, Genos picking at his meal with more ease than before, and Saitama focusing on clearing his bowl quickly. He finishes well before Genos, and puts his dishes into the sink, then grabs the formula and goes to give the rabbits a feeding.

Several minutes later, after Saitama has just picked up the second rabbit and managed to get it to start eating, Genos joins him.

He gives Genos a smile, but Genos remains quiet, sitting seiza across from Saitama's comfortable sprawl, observing him.

Normally, Saitama would be thankful for the silence, but somehow having Genos just staring at him, studying him, makes him more unnerved than anything else.

Genos has been in his house for less than a day and it feels like he somehow knows everything about Saitama already. But the more Saitama learns about Genos, the less he understands.

The kid is gorgeous. Saitama isn't sure if he could ever say that out loud, but in his head it's the only thing that seems right. Genos keeps wringing his hands together, and Saitama wonders if something is bothering him or it's just a nervous habit. He doesn't ask. Genos doesn't seem conscious of it, but the natural fluidity of movement and the way the light catches on different planes of his metallic fingers is mesmerizing. Maybe to the government Genos was just a weapon, but to someone else, to whoever designed him, Genos had to be a work of art.

And if things had gone differently, Genos wouldn't be sitting across from him, staring at Saitama like there's anything about him worth looking at.

"Genos... can I ask you a question?"

Genos refocuses on him, blinking in surprise. "Yes, sir, of course."

The 'sir' is a little startling to hear, as always, but Saitama lets it go, pausing for a moment before continuing. There's really only one question he wants an answer to.

"Why were you in the woods?"

The look on Genos's face is like a deer in headlights. His mouth opens and then shuts, and Saitama hastens to cut him off.

"Wait. I don't care why, exactly," Saitama says, in an attempt to clarify himself. "You don't have to tell me that. But I mean why the woods. Why were you in the woods, Genos?"

"I..." Genos trails off, blinking rapidly, and staring at the floor with honest confusion. "I don't know."

Saitama lets out a soft breath of disbelief. "There's nothing around for miles. Where were you heading?"

"I wasn't," Genos says, eyes lowered, squeezing his hands together slowly. "I didn't have a destination in mind. I just ran."

"...What?" Saitama has no doubt at all that Genos is telling the truth, but it's the most foolish, nonsensical thing he's ever heard. "Genos... You know if anyone else had found you, you could've ended up in a bad place. Cyborgs don't have any rights."

"I'm aware of that."

The curt, emotionless answer sort of rubs Saitama the wrong way. "So, you just, what, went out into the woods to live? There are bad people out there, Genos. What if somebody else had found you? Or nobody? How were you planning to live? How can you be so reckless with your own life?"

"I didn't plan anything!" Genos cries out, the sudden outburst startling Saitama out of his skin. The rabbit in his hands jumps as well, and only his careful hold on it keeps the fragile ball of fluff from leaping out of his grasp. Saitama can feel its heartbeat hammering against his palm while Genos buries his face in his hands, trembling almost as much as the frightened kit.

After a long second, Saitama puts the rabbit back into its box, careful not to let it jump out of his hands before it's set down safely. "Genos..." he says, shifting towards the cyborg, unsure of how to proceed, but Genos suddenly drops his hands and lifts his head, sitting up straight with his face expressionless again.

"You're right," Genos says, his voice deadened. "It was completely irrational." It's almost eerie, but he's betrayed by the fact that his eyes are still downcast, unable to perfect the emotionless charade. "There's... there's a flaw in my systems. I should have been decommissioned," Genos says, his voice breaking, wringing his hands together with building anxiety. "But I... I didn't want to... die."

The reality of the situation hits Saitama all at once, that last word hanging heavily in the air. Genos had spoken so lightly about it before, calling it decommission and brushing it off as if it was something that didn't actually mean anything to him.

Death. It was a death sentence, and Genos knew that. And he had fled from it.

Suddenly, it makes sense. Saitama can't really blame Genos for not thinking. Of course the kid ran. There wasn't anything else for him to do.

"That's not irrational, Genos. You wanted to live. So you did."

Genos lifts his gaze to Saitama, a little surprised by the conviction in his voice, and the heat he finds in Saitama's eyes. He seems so incensed, so serious, and the fact that this anger is on his behalf makes Genos want to shiver. He doesn't deserve it.

"I wasn't supposed to," Genos admits quietly.

"Why? Because you're not perfect? If you're supposed to die for that, then fuck what you're 'supposed' to do," Saitama spits out. He means to be encouraging, and on the bright side, Genos doesn't seem as upset anymore, but now the cyborg is staring at him like he is the most perplexing thing in the universe. Only the glossy sheen of oil in Genos's eyes indicates any sign of his previous emotion.

Saitama lets himself soften, trying to imagine what it must be like for Genos. Genos had been designed, created, and trained for a specific purpose. Built to follow orders. Then he was ordered to die. And Genos disobeyed. He'd left behind everything he'd ever known, for the desperate hope to survive. Leaving could have easily been just as much a death sentence as staying -- it almost was, in fact -- but Genos ran anyway.

Genos, who was built to be a weapon, and cried tears of oil over that fact.

Genos, who was meant to follow any command, but was too afraid to die.

“He was right, you know,” Saitama says, thinking of Kuseno’s comment about Genos. “You really are amazing.”

Genos wants to correct him, to confess his multitude of failures and flaws, the growing number of reasons why he deserved to die, but before he can find his courage to speak, Saitama rises to his feet with a smile that makes his insides twist.

“Come here,” Saitama says, beckoning Genos to him. “Lift up.”

Genos obediently raises his arms while Saitama pulls his shirt up. He could undress himself, he thinks, but keeps that thought to himself when he feels Saitama's hands graze his sides. Just the slight touch of his fingertips against metal makes Genos feel sparks.

The shirt catches over his head for a moment, just enough to mess Genos's hair up as it pulls free. Saitama laughs and reaches out to smooth down the tufts of blonde. "Your hair is all-" he stops himself, pressing his knuckles against his mouth to remind himself not to touch.

Confused, Genos smooths down his own hair until Saitama gives him a thumbs up.

The white shirt still clutched in Saitama's hand is stained with oil, food and dirt. Saitama shakes it out to look at it, and knows it's a lost cause. "I'll put this in the wash, but I don't think the stains will come out."

"I'm sorry."

"It's fine," Saitama assures him, cheerfully. "We'll keep it anyway, for projects."

"Projects?"

"Yeah, you know, when you've got something to do you know is gonna be messy. I have a bunch of old shirts that are covered in paint and stuff like that," Saitama says, going to retrieve the spare shirt that he brought downstairs with him.

"I see! Master is very prudent," Genos praises.

Saitama snorts while he searches for a pair of scissors. "Did you just call me a prude?"

"Ah, no... Prudent means 'sensible'," Genos explains, as Saitama returns with a pair of gardening shears instead. "You make use of what you have."

"Cool. I guess I do," Saitama shrugs. He cuts the sleeves off of his old shirt and then shakes it out to inspect it. It's a faded black color, and he hopes this one will stand up better to cyborg-related activities.

"Do you need to take a shower?" Saitama asks, pausing with the shirt held up in front of Genos.

The cyborg looks himself over. "No. I believe Doctor Kuseno cleaned my body very thoroughly when he repaired me."

"Okay... that's good," Saitama mumbles, handing Genos the shirt.

With a strange sense of disappointment, Genos puts the shirt on by himself.

Saitama has to briefly close his eyes to stop himself from staring at the shifting metal of Genos's abdomen, the concave shapes that form when he stretches his arms over his head.

"Master?" Genos questions, and Saitama opens his eyes again.

Black looks good on Genos.

Absently, Saitama reaches out and tugs at the shirt to pull it free from where it's gotten pinched between two metal plates by Genos's shoulder.

"I meant what I said," Saitama tells him, while he straightens the creases out of Genos's shirt. "If anyone tries to take you from me, I'll punch their lights out." What he just said immediately doesn't sit right, just a little. It's not like Genos actually belongs to him. He takes his hands off of Genos and adds, "Unless you want to leave."

"No!" Genos says, so quickly that Saitama has to stop himself from smiling in relief. "I want to stay with you."

"Okay," Saitama nods to himself. "I'm kind of beat, so I think we should go to bed now. I've got an extra pillow you can use."

"I'd like that," Genos agrees, somehow managing not to betray how excited he feels. He isn't even sure he'll need a pillow. He intends to fold himself as close to Saitama as possible and not move until morning, or until Saitama makes him get up.

Saitama starts heading up to the loft, and Genos follows on his heels.

"Whoa," Saitama stops him halfway up the stairs. "You don't need to follow me. There's nothing up here but my bed."

Something grinds to a halt in Genos's head. "I thought that was where we were going."

Saitama laughs, and the sound makes Genos feel hollow inside. "It's just a figure of speech. Go downstairs and wait for me."

Reluctantly, Genos gets off the stairs while Saitama disappears into the loft. A second later he hears, "Heads up!" and a green pillow comes flying over the balcony. Genos snags it with one hand, and looks up to see Saitama grinning over the railing at him. "Nice catch!"

Saitama returns with an armful of sheets and takes the pillow to the couch. "You can sleep here," Saitama says, piling the pillow and sheets onto the couch in a way that resembles a soft, messy nest more than anything.

"Goodnight, Genos," Saitama says, shutting off lights as he goes. "I'll see you in the morning."

Then he leaves Genos. Alone.

For a long moment, Genos simply stands there in the dark, listening to the soft scuffle of the rabbits settling against each other in their box. Not for the first time, Genos is envious of them.

He shouldn't be, Genos reminds himself, sitting down at the edge of the couch, almost tentatively. He pulls the bundle of sheets closer to him, and sets the pillow in his lap, inspecting it in the low light.

He should be grateful. He was never meant to have anything at all. He shouldn't even be alive.

This is the pillow off of Saitama's bed, and it still smells like him. It's more than Genos has ever been given before.

But it isn't what he wanted.

x

Chapter Text

Genos doesn't sleep.

He stays awake for long hours, like a stubborn child, just listening. Listening to the rabbits shift, snuggling against each other, until they finally fall into a deep sleep. Listening to Saitama toss around in bed, changing positions.

He keeps waiting for a sound that might mean Saitama has gotten out of bed. For his footsteps on the stairs, coming back down to tell him, I can't sleep either. For Saitama to give in, and let Genos upstairs with him, where they both belong. This distance makes him uneasy. Surely Saitama has to feel it too.

But then there's silence. Restful, unending silence.

Apparently Saitama can sleep just fine without him.

Genos isn't sure what that means.

The house is nearly pitch black, the only source of light coming in the windows from outside, the natural glow of the night sky under a bright moon.

It's been a long day and he should try to sleep. Mentally, Genos calculates the time left before the sun will rise again.

Six hours and thirty-seven minutes.

He fixes the pillow and blanket on the couch and lies down on top of them, curling up into Saitama's scent and closing his eyes. He stays that way for as long as possible, trying to will himself to fall asleep, but his mind won't shut off.

Somehow, he can feel the empty air against his metal plating. It's less of an actual sensation and more acutely the lack-thereof. The vacant space around him isn't oppressive - it threatens to consume. Genos tightens his grip on the blanket underneath him, clinging to whatever can keep him grounded, but it isn't enough to shake off this feeling overwhelming him. He can't stop thinking about the skylight somewhere above - a black void. It makes him feel exposed, helpless, and the feeling sinks deep into his chest plates, like rusting bullets, and won't go away.

Five hours and eighteen minutes.

Genos sits up, yanking the blanket up from underneath him. He settles heavily onto the couch again, covering himself with the blanket and burying his face into the space between his pillow and the back of the couch.

The feeling in his chest only gets worse. It's like he's back on the doctor's table, ripped open and pulled apart. But he felt safe then. He doesn't now, and he doesn't know why.

Four hours and twenty-nine minutes.

Four hours and twenty-eight minutes.

Genos gives up, rising to his feet. Slowly, he paces around the house.

He could clean, Genos thinks. If he did it quietly enough. If he weren't so tired.

At the foot of the stairs, Genos stops, staring at them, and then looks up to the loft. He can't see Saitama from here, but he can hear him snoring softly, fast asleep. For a minute, Genos seriously considers going up the stairs and sneaking into Saitama's bed anyway, even if it was just to lay at his feet. But that wouldn't help, and he isn't sure how Saitama would react. The possibility of Saitama outright rejecting him or even getting angry is too much to bear.

He'd thought that the rules didn't apply here, that everything would be different. Touching isn't off-limits, but he's confused now about what qualifies as 'personal quarters', and where the lines are drawn, and if Saitama will actually be angry if he discovers that Genos had been in his bed earlier. Maybe he wouldn't decommission Genos, but maybe he'd force him to leave.

The possibility makes the feeling in his chest even worse. He just wants to make Saitama proud of him, to prove that he's worthy of staying, to prove to himself that he's worthy of being alive, and he's failing already.

It was stupid to think that he'd sleep beside Saitama.

Saitama is human, after all.

Genos isn't sure why he didn't realize this sooner.

He doesn’t need to sleep, anyway.

Genos sits down at the bottom of the stairs, leaning his head against the railing. The wooden post is sturdy and unyielding, almost like metal. It’s comfortable. The next thing he knows, he finds himself blinking awake.

He'd almost think that no time had passed, but the house is no longer dark. Instead, it's filled with an almost surreal pre-morning glow.

One hour, fifty-two minutes.

Genos doesn't move, willing to let himself doze again, but he can’t in this light. It’s even brighter with his enhanced night vision, and makes his head throb a little.

Genos gets to his feet again and returns to the living room. He’s almost resolved to just sit down with the blanket and pillow and wait until sunrise, or maybe even bring them back to the stairs and lay down there until Saitama gets up, but then he notices the dark space behind the couch.

Without a second thought, Genos tosses the blanket and pillow into this hideaway, and crawls inside. It’s a cramped fit, and his broad shoulders scrape a little bit of paint off the wall before forcing the couch to slide out an inch. He wiggles in further, until he is completely inside the dark hiding place, and then tucks his legs up as much as he can. Once Genos settles onto his side, he can hardly move at all. The wall is solid against his back and the wooden frame of the couch digs into his shoulder and knees.

It's perfect.

If he closes his eyes and presses his face against the pillow, all he can smell is Saitama. If he stays still, so he’s wedged as tightly as possible, it doesn’t feel like his chest will burst open on its own.

He'll be okay until morning comes.

////

It's peaceful when Saitama wakes up.

The house is quiet, and even the birds outside are singing softly. Genos is downstairs, he remembers, and it makes his chest feel strange. There's a lingering nervousness and he wonders if that will ever go away, but he's actually looking forward to seeing the kid, and that's the weird part. He already feels fond of Genos, of the perplexing range of emotions that the cyborg has revealed. He's never met anyone so curious, or happy, or sincere. Or sad.

Today, he's going to take Genos shopping. It's only the thrift store, but he's looking forward to letting him pick out whatever he wants. His wallet already hurts, but it'll be worth it.

He gets up and heads downstairs, snorting quietly to himself at the possibility of catching Genos still sleeping on the couch. It wouldn't surprise him if the kid slept half the day. His blonde hair will probably be a ridiculous mess. For some reason, he can't shake a smile off his face at the thought. Maybe he'll make breakfast and surprise him with it.

But the couch is empty.

Saitama stops in confusion, glancing back at the kitchen and dining room, but he already knows Genos isn't there either. The house is too small for him to miss.

"Genos?" Saitama calls out, wondering if the cyborg still managed to wander off somewhere, but there is no answer.

The spare room is empty, aside from the usual clutter. The bathroom is empty. Even the cellar is empty. As he checks each place, Saitama is more certain Genos has to be there. He pictures him hiding in between old boxes of books, or even curled up in the bathtub. Somehow that’d be less strange than no Genos at all. The kid likes cleaning, so Saitama is convinced it wouldn't be a stretch to find Genos down in the basement, fighting with cobwebs. But he isn't anywhere.

Saitama comes back upstairs, and then goes out the front door. He doesn't even think about it.

The morning air is colder than usual, a thin fog filtering the weak sunlight. Saitama circles the property once, his socks soaked through with dew the moment he steps off his porch. There's nobody out here, except for himself and a few noisy birds. Usually their singing brightens up his day but right now he feels sick. Genos isn't in the yard. He isn't in the garden behind the house. He's just gone.

A strange emptiness settles into his chest, one that Saitama refuses to acknowledge. He isn’t sure whether he should feel worried or stupid. He knew this would happen anyway, but it's just... Genos had said he wanted to stay.

Saitama tries to think of where Genos would go. There's so much forest in every direction. If he went far enough to the north, he'd come into town. Even further northeast he might eventually stumble into a bigger city, but in the opposite direction, there are miles of rough terrain virtually untouched by anyone. Genos could be anywhere by now. But Saitama can't search everywhere. He'll have to start with where Genos is more likely to go. But the only places he can think of would be the tree he found Genos under, or Kuseno's. After that… he'll never find him.

The realization sticks to him like he's swallowed pins. Saitama goes back inside, the screen door snapping shut behind him with a bang. Genos was going to stay. What the hell did he do to make him change his mind? What the hell had he said? Why was he always fucking this up?

Saitama tears through the house, trying to find his shoes and coat, growing ever frustrated by the second with his own disorganization. He’d leave barefooted, he’s done it before, but he knows the consequences of going through the wilderness unprepared and has already had Kuseno threaten him with more than tetanus shots if he did it again.

His boots are in the living room, and he kneels down to pull them on. With shaking hands, Saitama starts tugging at his laces, already wondering if he’ll find Genos, what he’s supposed to say, when something metal catches his attention.

Metal… toes?

For a second, Saitama just stares, breathless. He should be annoyed, or angry at himself, but Saitama is far too perplexed by the sight of Genos tucked behind his couch. The space is so cramped, and so dark all that he can see are the cyborg’s legs, curled up, and his bare, metal feet. It’s almost concerning.

Saitama hadn't even noticed the kid back there. It didn't occur to him to look. He would've run out the door again, not knowing that Genos had never left at all. Why didn't he wake up when Saitama was looking for him?

“Genos?” Saitama asks, his voice far softer than he intended.

Saitama leans over, tapping gently on the black silicon-padded metal, and then running his finger over the fine arch of Genos’s foot. He can’t help but snort in amusement when Genos twitches in response and slides his foot away, curling up further into his hiding place, but apparently not waking.

The relief that crashes into him all at once is unexpected and almost overwhelming. Saitama presses his hands hard against his face for a long moment, willing this threatening swell of emotion to stop.

Just as suddenly, the raw tumult of feeling subsides, mercifully, leaving his stomach sick and his head vacant. It's strange. Every emotion is still there, as always, like a maelstorm inside of him, tumultuous and conflicting, but no longer quite able to connect. Like he’s managed to lock it safely behind glass once again. Most days, he feels as if centered in the eye of a storm, able to observe such strong and potentially damaging emotions from a distance, but not actually experiencing them. It's better that way. Dealing with it would just be... Bad.

As soon as his head clears, Saitama seizes the chance to pop back onto his feet, his boots hastily (but quietly, as not to wake Genos) tossed aside once again. He goes for the first thing that comes to mind - the rabbits. It’s time for them to eat, and Saitama is grateful for the distraction. Anything to keep his hands busy, his mind focused on a task.

Saitama scoops the bunnies up carefully - small bundles of fluff that immediately nestle into his arms - and takes them to the kitchen.

They thump and scamper around his feet while he makes a fresh batch of formula, enjoying their brief bout of freedom.

“Shh, keep it down, girls,” Saitama shushes softly, but it seems like Genos is a heavy sleeper anyway, and he can't resist dusting off his little plug-in radio and turning it on low. The tinny sound of music crackling through the speakers immediately releases the tension in his shoulders. The cord is long enough to let him take it off the windowsill over the sink and place it on the floor instead. Then he rounds up the rabbits, formula and a cloth in hand, and sits down on the floor, absent-mindedly humming along to the familiar tunes.

////

Genos is somewhere on the edge of unconsciousness when he hears footsteps, stirring him awake.

“Genos?” Saitama’s voice is soft but clear in the morning stillness.

Genos is too tired to respond. Every breath feels like exhausting work. Even opening his eyes is too much.

He expects to hear that it's time to get up -- maybe even be reprimanded -- but instead Saitama walks away without trying to rouse him, and Genos is relieved. His head goes foggy again almost instantly, letting the sticky threads of sleep creep back in and drag him under.

For a long time, he stays that way, drifting between a deep abyss and a strange dream-like state, where he can hear Saitama but not quite manage to wake up. Now and then, he is pulled back into the latter state by various morning noises – songbirds making a cheerful ruckus outside as the sun comes up, the soft pad of Saitama's feet on the floor when he crosses the house, the slam of the front door being pulled shut by a spring. Brief moments of half-consciousness interrupting a dreamless daze. It's so effortless to slip back under that comfortable darkness.

When Saitama touches his foot, it startles him -- his body reacts without any thought or effort, pulling away from the unexpected contact, curling in on himself a little more before his foggy mind realizes what happened.

Genos should get up, but he can't will himself to move yet. If Saitama asked him to, he would. He anticipates the command, but it never comes.

After what feels like several long minutes later, he hears Saitama leave again, and Genos feels relief wash over him, followed by blissful sleep.

////

The buzzing sound of static wakes Genos up.

It's quiet, almost innocuous, just the turn of a dial on a radio, but his eyes open immediately, and his core heats up. For a second, Genos can't remember where he is. The world feels almost tilted - wooden floors under him instead of metal or concrete. The disorientation makes his senses spike, which only serves to leave him confused longer, a sensory overload his foggy brain is trying to unscramble. The sound of a man's voice on the radio cuts through it all, and Genos digs his fingers into his pillow, trying to focus on what information is being relayed, anticipating the latest grim reports from the front. But as the man on the radio keeps chattering, Genos starts to pick up on some of the words.

-100 tacos for just 100 dollars!

"That's a really good deal!"

Saitama’s voice rings out in the small house, sounding pleasant and carefree. Unconcerned about things like codes, coordinates, or commands. Just the cheerful tone of his master’s voice is somehow a reassurance that things are different now.

The radio keeps making noise, one person talking, and then another. It isn't anything like Genos has ever heard before. They could be normal conversations, if a normal conversation included enthusiastically urging whoever was listening to visit a store or a restaurant, or to buy their new hair-growth formula. The last one makes Saitama squawk with indignity and complain, but the person keeps making their pitch, ignoring him.

After a while, the chatter stops completely. There’s a long pause of silence and then, softly, because the radio is low, music begins to play.

Yesterday, Saitama had played music in the truck. It was the first time Genos heard a song that wasn't a cadence call, or a patriotic anthem. The idea that other types of music could exist in the world leaves him blinking in wonder, just listening.

Then Saitama's voice comes to him, clear as day.

"Imagine me and you -- I do. I think about you day and night, it's only right-"

Genos turns his head, perking up to listen, and nearly smacks face first into the wall. Saitama's voice is so strange, his intonation and rhythmic timing unnatural from normal speech patterns, and it is... nice, somehow. He has no precedent for this, no frame of comparison – only a need to hear more of it, if only because it is Saitama speaking so freely.

"-and you say you belong to me, and ease my mind-"

Genos wiggles out of his hidden space, elbows bumping into the wall as quietly as possible. He wants to hear what Saitama is saying. It feels important. He sits up on his knees and wipes dust off of his clothes, listening for a moment as the song suddenly raises in volume - the radio is so loud now it resonates through the entire house, a bright, jubilant sound, matched by Saitama cheerfully bellowing out the chorus-

"I can't see me loving no bunnies but you for all my life~!"

Rising to his feet, bemused, Genos wanders out to the kitchen where Saitama is swept up in the music. For a moment, his mechanical body is breathless. He can feel the music in his core, down to the soles of his feet. It’s loud.

“When you’re with me, baby the skies will be blue for all my life!”

Saitama is in his pajamas, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with a cloth and tiny bottle of formula in one hand and a baby bunny in the other. The second rabbit is nestled in his lap, but tries to hop away as Genos watches it.

"Nope!" Saitama sets the bottle aside and gently scoops the attempted escapee up, snuggling both rabbits into his arms. Beside him, the radio keeps playing on, the singer plunging back into the next verse before Saitama joins in again.

"The only one for me is you, and you for me," Saitama sings to the rabbits, touching his nose and then theirs in turn with the song. There’s a smile on his face so happy and loving that it makes Genos feel a little sick inside because Saitama hasn't even looked at him. They are just rabbits. He wants to be the one Saitama would say something like that to.

Without another thought, Genos crosses the distance between them, dropping to his knees so he can sit with Saitama too. So Saitama will sing to him. But instead of singing the chorus again, Saitama screams in surprise.

"AAAH! Genos!"

The rabbits startle almost as badly as Saitama and try to bolt from his arms, but he scrambles to keep the terrified rabbits tucked safely in his arms, and succeeds.

“Don't do that!” Saitama admonishes, feeling his face go hot.

Genos sits back in surprise. “I'm sorry.”

“I mean, you scared me,” Saitama mumbles, reaching to turn the radio off. He doesn't catch the look of disappointment on Genos' face. “I’m the one who should be saying sorry.”

“For what?”

“For my singing! It's awful," Saitama says, with a little self-deprecating laugh. "If the rabbits could talk, they'd be begging me to shut up.”

"No..." Genos frowns, unsure how anyone could tell Saitama to stop talking, no matter what species. "I like hearing your voice."

A little crease appears on Saitama’s brow. “Seriously?”

“I haven't learned how to joke yet,” Genos reminds him, an edge of complaint to his tone, because as often as Saitama mentions his joking, Genos is already aware that it’s an important skill he’s lacking.

“I mean… I know you’re serious, but what I really meant is… why?”

“I thought it was nice,” Genos says. “You sounded happy.”

“It’s… yeah,” Saitama agrees, awkwardly, feeling weird with the cyborg staring at him so intently. When things look at him like that, it usually means he should feed them. With the rabbits full and eager to leap out of his arms, maybe it’s time to give Genos some attention instead. “The rabbits are kind of freaked, so I’m going to put them away,” Saitama says, standing up carefully, and carrying them back to their little nesting area in the living room, gold eyes following after him.

Their hearts are still drumming wildly under his fingertips when he eases the rabbits back into their home and covers them up, hoping that the darkness and quiet space will bring them comfort.

On his way back to the kitchen, Saitama pauses, watching Genos’ head slowly slump forward before lifting again. When he steps back into the room, Genos turns toward him, and despite the fact that Genos is more synthetic than organic, the exhaustion is written all over his face.

“Want some breakfast?” Saitama offers, and Genos nods a little dazedly before rising to his feet.

Saitama starts to cook something for them, occasionally asking for a pan or an ingredient, Genos a little slower than usual to process it. When it’s about done, he tells Genos to go set the table and sit down while he finishes up. By the time Genos takes his seat, Saitama is spooning hot food from the frying pan onto their plates.

At last, Saitama settles across from Genos, who is clumsily picking through his breakfast. Genos’s lack of skill with the chopsticks hasn't improved with his obvious lack of sleep. He loses the majority of what he tries to pick up, but he doesn’t even seem to care, so long as there’s a morsel of food left when it reaches his mouth. A couple times, the chopsticks themselves fall out of his hands and onto the plate, leaving Genos blinking in confusion before it registers that he’s only holding air.

If someone told him right now that Genos was a dangerous weapon, Saitama wouldn’t even be able to entertain the idea. Heck, he already knows that’s supposed to be the case, but his head still refuses to accept it. It doesn’t matter what the cyborg’s specs are, how powerful he is, or how deadly. It wouldn’t even matter if the kid had an actual nuclear bomb wired into him. Seeing Genos like this - barefoot and messy, still rumpled from sleep and only half awake, barely able to keep his head up, much less hold onto his utensils - it makes something in Saitama’s chest feel like it's been pulled tight.

Whatever emotion is tugging at him, Saitama can't find a name for. Maybe he doesn’t even dare to try. He makes an effort to look only at his plate, to mind his own business, but he can’t stop his brain from spitting out thoughts anyway, like little sparks that keep catching fire before he can put them out. If Genos had actually disappeared. If Genos had left for some reason. If Genos never came this way. If someone else found Genos instead. If he hadn’t gone into the woods that morning. If Saitama had been distracted and never went to that particular tree until the next day, or even just hours later. If Kuseno wasn’t home. If Genos didn’t make it. If Genos didn’t want to come home with him. If Genos left. If Genos leaves. When Genos leaves.

The chopsticks slip from Genos’ fingers again, the faint clatter actually startling them both.

Distraction. Much needed.

Saitama reaches for the chopsticks before Genos can pick them up this time, taking them away. “Hey,” he says, gently, touching Genos’s hand to get his attention. The kid is so tired, he’s shaking. “It’s fine. Eat however you like. You’ll pick up on it later.”

Relief visibly washes over Genos’s face, but he’s still tired. He picks at his breakfast with his fingers for a while before giving up and simply resting his head on his hand, elbow on the table. Genos seems dangerously close to faceplanting in his plate, but every time Saitama anxiously wonders if he dozed off, his eyes flutter open again.

“Dude… How about you go back to sleep,” Saitama suggests.

Slowly, Genos shakes his head in refusal. Stubborn.

“Why not?”

“‘S’too bright now,” Genos mumbles, his words slurring for a moment. “Can’t fall asleep.”

Saitama nods, knowing the feeling all too well. As much as he almost wants to insist, because Genos looks rough, it brings him a little selfish relief that the day can continue as planned.

“I’ll make some coffee,” he says instead, and gets up to make a brew.

Once he gets Genos going, once they get out of the house, the kid will wake up more. Genos needs his own clothes, and Saitama can’t begin to guess at sizes, so they really need to go shopping. Together. That’s not normally a word that Saitama could even use. That’s not normally a concept that Saitama would find… okay.

For a moment, Saitama tests his own thoughts. If it were anyone else he knew, even for just a trip to store, the idea of having their company, their input, their conversation, ranges from awkward and uncomfortable to downright unbearable. He'd try to avoid that kind of social interaction in the first place, but if he had to go with someone, he'd be eager to get it over with as quickly as possible. But with Genos, it's so different, it's scary in its own right. Sure, the uneasiness is still there, the sick feeling in his stomach, the slight need to lie down and die, but when is it ever not.

What surprises him is how much he still wants this, despite his usual anxiety. He wants to see Genos’ reaction to going shopping for the first time. He wants to see Genos pick out something he wants, and be able to give that to him. The idea of the extra expense should be painful, but it feels worth it. For once, he actually wants someone else around. He's actually grateful for Genos for… staying with him? Being here? Existing? He can't quite put it into the right words, but it feels like something Genos should know. Saitama had promised that he'd try to explain things better, and this feels like maybe it’s a damn good place to start. How is he supposed to teach Genos anything if he can't even verbalize his own thoughts.

Saitama takes his coffee mug out of the cupboard and fills it, mentally turning over what to say. 'I'm glad you're here' is the only thing that comes to mind. It doesn't even begin to actually do any justice to what he means, but nothing else sounds right. 'I'm glad you're here.' It's simple. It's a starting point. He can get it out, and mean it. He picks up the mug and tries to focus on the almost scalding heat in his hands, while lining the words up on his tongue, practicing them mentally. 'I'm glad you're here.'

The mug makes a little clink when he sets it in front of Genos. The words disappear from his head, blank as a slate.

"Thank you," Genos says. Saitama nods, wipes his palms on his jeans, and sits down.

Sometimes he really wonders if this is easy for everyone else.

Genos looks a bit perplexed, even as he takes the mug in his hands.

"It's coffee," Saitama explains. "It'll help you wake up."

"Are you having any?"

"Nah. I've only got one coffee mug. I mean, I used to have more, but they broke and I... it's not like I ever really have guests so I never got another one," Saitama explains, trailing off awkwardly.

Genos takes a sip, and when he sets the mug back down there's a sour look on his face like he doesn't believe the 'I don't have another mug' story.

"It's supposed to be bitter," Saitama laughs. "Some people prefer it black, but I guess you don’t. I like mine with cream and sugar."

Saitama gets up and comes back with a container of creamer, sugar, and a spoon. "Try these. Sorry. I'm not used to having other people around," he comments, by way of apology for his shitty hospitality.

"I'm... not used to being alone," Genos says slowly, as if the concept is hard to even wrap his head around. Saitama wants to point out that he isn't, but he doesn't interrupt. "My... The other GENs... we were always kept together. Even when we slept, we'd be crammed in side by side."

"Wow," Saitama says, unable to imagine a life like that, never having a single moment of solitary peace. "It must've been nice at least, to finally be able to sleep by yourself."

Genos doesn't say anything. He seems to contemplate the sugar for a long time, and then takes a spoonful and stirs it into the black liquid.

"You know, at first I couldn't find you when I got up," Saitama continues, laughing nervously at himself. "I thought you left."

Genos blinks, genuinely confused by the confession, but too tired to really understand. "...Where would I go?"

The words are almost deadpan, and they feel like lead sinking in Saitama’s stomach. Right. Where the hell would Genos go. It's not like he could just leave. It’s not like he has a choice.

"I dunno. I was wondering the same thing," Saitama mumbles, feeling a little stupid.

“You know you’re allowed to sleep on the couch, right? It’s okay. I want you to.”

The statement doesn’t go over as intended. Instead, Genos suddenly looks like he’s going to cry. “Do I have to?”

Saitama blinks, bewildered. This is definitely different from the usual ‘yes sir, no sir’ routine he’d been getting from Genos before. “No… But… I just don’t understand. Wouldn’t the couch be more comfortable if you slept on it instead of behind it?”

Genos shakes his head. “I can’t.”

“Okay. Okay, then,” Saitama says, placating. “Why didn’t you want to sleep on the couch?”

“I tried to but I couldn’t. I felt…” Genos falters, finding himself at a loss, and the terrible ache in his chest returns, to his distress. “It feels like shrapnel tearing me apart. Or like I might be ripped open. I couldn’t sleep. Everything felt too… exposed. But there’s nothing wrong. There’s no danger. I know that,” Genos adds, sounding painfully reasonable, despite the tremble in his voice. “I just… I think my sensors need to be recalibrated.”

Saitama stares at him, wondering if the kid is even aware that he’s clutching his own chest, as if physically trying to ease the feeling he just described. “Genos... that sounds like anxiety.”

Genos’s eyes shift to his, and it feels like Saitama finally caught onto something he was missing. He’d been thinking about himself so much, he never thought that Genos could feel the same way. But while Saitama sees revelation, Genos just remains confused.

“Anxiety means worry or anticipation. I’m not sure that’s an entirely accurate descriptive word for what happened,” Genos says, no malice in his voice at all, but his depth of denial is concerning. “I would call it a ‘glitch’.”

A glitch. It’s another dismissive, inhuman word. Saitama really can’t ignore the deliberate use of language anymore. Even with his poor attention span, there’s an obvious pattern emerging. Salvaged, functioning, commissioned, decommissioned, flaw, glitch. Genos’s vocabulary is steeped in words meant to describe machines, not living things. Not human beings.

That kind of wording made sense when Genos described how he was created, or how his body worked. After all, his body is a machine. But Genos’s mind, his personality, and his soul are all undeniably human, despite the apparent effort to deny this fact.

“Can you tell me about it?” Saitama asks, his mouth feeling dry. “What kind of…” He doesn’t want to say that word again. “What problems were you having?”

“I think… I think it’s just a loose wire,” Genos says, slightly guarded. “It can wait until the next scheduled maintenance.”

“Hey. Yesterday you promised me you’d let me know if you weren’t okay,” Saitama reminds him. “I’m supposed to take care of you.”

“There’s no indication of damage. It’s non-essential,” Genos assures him.

“Let me decide that.”

Genos’s mouth falls open, and then shuts. He lowers his head, looking at the cup of coffee, fingers twisting together anxiously. Anxiously. For a minute, Genos seems to struggle finding the words to speak, but there’s no hurry. Saitama could wait forever. It doesn’t take nearly that long before Genos starts.

“The problem only seems to occur when I try to lie down,” he says, letting out a small breath. “I think the positioning may be causing my proximity sensors to stop functioning correctly. When I tried to sleep, I… I was suddenly consumed by this overwhelming feeling of endless open space. It caused an unpleasant physical sensation, as if my chest was going to burst open. It also triggered a heightened adrenal response, despite the obvious lack of danger. I could not clear the thought-processes from my head. The only thing that alleviated the feeling was to have a tightly enclosed space, as a tactile reminder of security.”

All of the technical talk makes his mind go garbled, but the rest of it is way too familiar. Chest pain -- terror -- racing thoughts. That doesn’t sound like an electrical problem. It reminds him of nights spent feeling physically sick, trying to tell himself to just breathe, that nothing’s wrong, that he isn’t going to die, waiting for his heart to stop hammering in his chest and his head to stop spinning.

It’s not like Genos doesn’t have a thousand reasons to feel that way. The kid was in a war. He was told he’d be killed - ‘torn apart’ as Genos himself had so delicately described it. He had deserted and ran from the military. He got caught in a storm and hit by lightning. He probably spent the entire night under that damn tree, awake and knowing that he was going to die. It’s no wonder why Genos keeps shutting himself off. Trying to deal with any part of that would be overwhelming.

Suddenly Saitama isn’t sure how prepared he is to handle this.

Just because a broken wing heals, doesn’t mean that a bird will ever fly again.

In Genos’s case, Saitama isn’t even sure how to assess the injury. Physically, Genos is fine. Kuseno’s work really is flawless. But his brain is organic, and human minds can be wounded.

How the hell is Saitama supposed to fix that when he can’t even fix himself?

It’s been a while, but Saitama doesn’t realize that Genos is still waiting for him to speak, until Genos tentatively continues; “It’ll be a simple repair for the doctor.”

“He can’t do anything,” Saitama interrupts.

“But a wire-”

“It’s not a wire. He won’t be able to help. He isn’t that kind of a doctor.”

“How do you know?”

Genos sounds skeptical, almost angry, and Saitama can’t blame him. A wire out of place would be so easy. A broken bone, a wound to heal. If only it were something he could touch, then it’d be something he could mend. It could all be so simple. Life rarely seems to work that way.

“Because I don’t have any wires,” Saitama says, opening his hands as if to prove it.

“...Master?”

A soft laugh escapes him, and Saitama rubs his head. “I’m bad at people. I can’t socialize. I don’t know what to say. When my anxiety gets bad, sometimes I can’t speak at all. Sometimes it feels like I can’t even breathe. Or my heart pounds, or my head gets dizzy, or my chest hurts. I get all of these thoughts that won’t go away. Sometimes they’re stupid thoughts, like, nobody likes me, even the animals I take care of don’t like me. But sometimes the thoughts aren’t so stupid. Sometimes they’re too real and I just… have to try to ignore it. But that doesn’t always work.”

“I like you,” Genos offers, quietly.

Saitama’s brow crinkles in surprise, but he clears the distraction with a little shake of his head. “I like you too, Genos. This isn’t about me, though. I’m just trying to say… I know how it feels. It’s not always the same things at once. It’s not always overwhelming, but sometimes it is. Maybe yours is worse than mine. But it’s normal.”

“Feeling like this is normal?”

“Yes… No. Fuck, no, it’s not. But you aren’t broken. You aren’t some machinery that needs to have a part replaced. This is something that people feel. Some more than others. Some much more than others.”

The expression on Genos’s face is so stricken, one would think that Saitama had just told Genos he had cancer. “Master, I don’t want you to feel like this!”

“Well, I don’t want you to either! If I’d known that you were having a bad night, I would’ve… I don't know,” Saitama looks away, uncertain, and that's the real flaw in his plan. He doesn't actually know how to comfort anyone. “We could’ve talked at least. I wouldn’t have left you alone. Would that have helped?”

Genos nods and wraps his arms around himself. “Does it ever go away?”

“For me, no. Even on good days, it's a constant background noise,” Saitama says. “But I've got social anxiety. You've got a thousand reasons to have some sleepless nights. The war alone… Soldiers come back all the time that are never the same again.”

“So it'll never get better.”

“I never said that. It can get a lot better, Genos,” Saitama says. “It just… It might be hard and it might not ever completely go away. Stuff like this, it’s like a wound on your mind. You have to give it time to heal. But that doesn't mean that you won't be okay.”

“I never sustained head trauma.”

“Maybe not, but going through extreme stress, or seeing bad stuff happening, that can put scars on your mind. They aren't physical but they’re still as real,” Saitama explains. “It helps if you have something to distract you. Positive things. Hobbies. What do you like to do?”

“I like cleaning.”

“That’s…” Saitama stops himself from saying that it’s not really what he meant. Just because he finds it boring, doesn’t mean that Genos does. He can’t deny the satisfaction of tossing out old clutter, or getting the dust out of the house, even if it doesn’t last that long. “That’s a good start. What else?”

Genos pauses for a moment, thinking. “I like following commands.”

“No… Genos. Hobbies are something that you want to do.”

Genos seems entirely unconcerned. “I want to do whatever you want.”

They won't get anywhere like this, Saitama realizes. He's trying to ask for something that Genos has probably never been encouraged to think about - his own interests and desires.

“Okay,” Saitama says, getting out of his chair. “I’ve got a mission for you, Genos. A very, very important one.”

At that, Genos perks up, watching with full attention as Saitama goes to the refrigerator. Instead of opening it, Saitama reaches up top, retrieving a battered old spiral notebook and a pen. He sets them down in front of Genos almost reverently, as if the thin collection of paper is something sacred.

“I want you to make a list,” Saitama says. “Write down everything that interests you. Everything you want to learn more about. Everything that you want to do. Everything that makes you happy. In a few days, we’ll look at it together.”

Genos touches his fingers to the scratches on the cover, and opens the notebook with delicate care, as if it might fall apart. It might. Inside, the pages are blank, waiting for words to give them meaning.

“Can you do that, Genos?”

Saitama is standing so close that when Genos looks up at him, he fills his entire vision. “Yes,” he nods, and Saitama’s smile is dizzying. His fingers go through Genos’s hair for an instant, giving an affectionate touch that makes the cyborg’s core heat up, and then he picks up their dishes and goes to the sink, leaving Genos to stare at the blank lines and think.

Everything that makes him happy.

x

Chapter Text

After a conversation like that, Saitama's first instinct is to just escape. He can vividly picture himself heading out into the woods and walking until his mind clears and the knots in his stomach untangle and then coming back later and pretending nothing happened. The comfort, the denial, is so tempting. If it were any other situation, he would probably go. But this isn't about him, and walking out on Genos is unthinkable.

Instead, Saitama quietly washes the dishes, staying close to Genos in case he needs that, but also giving them both some time. When he runs out of things to clean, he rinses his hands, and then goes upstairs to get dressed.

When he comes back down, he notices that Genos is already writing in the notebook. He's so absorbed, he doesn't even look up when Saitama passes by.

"I'm gonna go outside for a while and get some work done," Saitama says, putting on his boots and tugging at the well-worn laces. "When I'm done, we'll head into town, if you're up for it." He straightens up, and turns back to face Genos, half expecting him to still have his nose buried in the notebook, but the cyborg is staring right at him.

"Do I have to stay inside?"

"No. You can come outside," Saitama says. "You can do whatever you want."

"Master told me to make a list of things that make me happy. I want to keep working on my mission outside," Genos says, closing the notebook with care, and picking up his things as he rises to his feet.

"Hey," Saitama stops him at the door. "You do know you don't have to do this 'mission' all at once, right? It's something to keep adding to over time, whenever something comes to mind."

"I will keep adding to it," Genos agrees with an almost impatient nod. "But right now I have lots of things that come to mind."

"Okay," Saitama says, a little surprised by how easily Genos launched himself into the task. He's glad, he thinks, as he steps outside and holds the door open for Genos.

Genos stops on the porch, staring at a bird feeder currently being patronized by one of Saitama's feathered friends.

"You like birds?" Saitama asks, making Genos jump. He looks at Saitama with wide eyes, nodding, and then opens the notebook and starts writing again.

With a little laugh, Saitama slips away, heading out back to his garden. He needs to see what vegetables are ready to be harvested, and finds a wooden crate to fill with as much of a variety as he can. The soil feels like home under his knees, between his fingers. He's digging up carrots when Genos wanders out back to join him.

Saitama watches him, concern lingering on his mind, but Genos doesn't seem distraught anymore. Instead, there's a quiet awe about him. Perhaps he's vaguely aware of Saitama's position, because he moves directly towards him until they are only a few yards apart, but Genos doesn't even look at him. He’s too busy trying to observe the grass, the plants, and the trees that surround them, all vibrantly colored with summer's abundance. It’s easy to forget how beautiful it all is, but for Genos it’s still so new. Saitama wishes that he could capture that kind of innocent wonder and keep it forever in a glass jar. Safe. Unspoiled.

Genos plops down onto the grass, his gaze turning up towards the endless blue ocean over their heads, looking a little overwhelmed, as if contemplating the impossibility of drinking it all in. Then he drops his eyes back down to the ground, blinking away sunspots, and grabs his notebook, and writes.

It's a quiet companionship. Saitama keeps picking vegetables, and checking on his plants as he goes. Genos keeps writing, the motivated scratch of pen against paper almost too soft to be heard over the wind caressing the tops of the trees and the birds singing in the distance.

Saitama never knew that he could enjoy someone else’s presence, but somehow just having Genos near him feels like a reassurance.

After a while, Genos asks, “Master?”

Saitama considers saying something about the unwanted title, but the hesitancy in Genos’ voice makes him forget about it.

“Yeah?”

“What do you have written on your list?”

The cyborg is curious, subconsciously leaning a little closer to Saitama as he awaits the answer. Maybe he wants guidance, or reassurance that his answers are “good” answers. Or maybe he actually wants to know.

“Ah. I don't have a list, so, technically there’s nothing,” Saitama admits, already wracking his brain for a better response. “But if I did, it’d probably have the usual clichéd stuff, like animals and sunsets. When I’m stressed, I guess I like to go for a walk or listen to music. That kind of stuff.”

“Why don’t you have a list?”

“I don't like writing stuff like that down,” Saitama shrugs, feeling uncomfortable. He keeps his head down and pretends to be busy, hoping that Genos will drop the topic. Journaling isn't something Saitama could ever get himself to do, but it’s not hypocritical of him if Genos actually finds it beneficial.

“I see,” Genos says, and then goes quiet again. When Saitama sneaks a glance up, Genos is back to writing, but there’s a pensive look on his face. Saitama can’t tell if Genos is bothered by the fact that he’s doing the task alone, or if he had just hoped to poll some ideas that weren't so obvious and bland.

But ‘obvious’ and ‘bland are Saitama’s middle and last names.

Eventually Saitama gets enough decent-looking produce to make the wooden crate rounded and full. He gets to his feet and hauls it to the side, brushing dirt off his jeans.

“Master?”

“Mm? Yeah?” Saitama asks, wondering what question Genos has for him now. But instead of a question, Genos gets up into a defensive stance, his chest starting to glow, as if ramping up power.

Someone is here,” Genos says in a dark whisper that makes a chill go down the back of Saitama’s neck, despite the summer heat.

He doesn't get visitors. But there's a crunch of gravel from the front side of the house, and Saitama knows Genos isn't wrong. There are only two possibilities, and they both know it. Either it’s someone local, likely someone he knows, or it’s someone here for Genos. The idea of a visitor isn't something Saitama enjoys regardless, but Genos… Genos looks terrified. He can’t go face this, even if it is a threat. Especially if it’s a threat. He might be a weapon but he’s just a kid and he needs someone else to protect him for once.

“Genos,” Saitama says, his voice hushed but firm enough to get Genos to focus on him, to clear his head. He moves quickly towards him, pushing Genos towards the side of the house, where it’s less likely anyone taking a quick peek around the corner will see him. The metal plating on his shoulders is almost scalding to the touch, and Genos is still glowing with heat. “Stay here. Stay hidden.”

The sound of someone knocking at the front door comes from the opposite side of the house, echoing eerily through the open woods around them, and Saitama’s pulse jumps.

“I’ll go see who it is,” Saitama says quickly, his voice low. “If you hear me whistle, you try to stay out of sight and run into the woods, okay?”

“But what about-”

Saitama cuts him off. “If you think something is wrong, just run. I’ll find you.”

Genos barely nods, and Saitama is already gone. He should be as scared as Genos is, but that protective instinct just makes him want to punch somebody instead. If it’s someone looking for Genos, he could try lying… but if it really came down to it, if he had to… Well. He does own a shovel and a lot of land.

When he rounds the corner, Saitama still isn't sure if he’s ready to bluff his way out of the situation or ready to kick some ass. There are no other vehicles parked in the yard aside from his own truck, but just as he spots a bicycle by the front step, someone leans over the porch railing right next to him and waves, scaring him half to death.

“Hey, Saitama!”

“Mumen, what the fuck,” Saitama mutters, actually trying to catch his breath, but Mumen doesn’t hear him - he's already running down the porch steps and coming around to come see him.

Mumen is the only person Saitama knows who not only wears his bicycle helmet, but elbow pads as well.

“I figured you were out back!” Mumen grins, sunlight reflecting off of his glasses. “Or out in the woods. You always are. I was gonna leave these on the porch, but you’re here, so-!” He hands a bundle of mail to Saitama, mostly spam.

“Uh… Thanks,” Saitama says. “You know, you don't have to bring it all the way to my door.”

“I know, but I finished my route and then I was just out for a ride and saw you didn't grab it yet so I figured I'd pop in,” Mumen says. “Besides, I haven't seen you in a long time. Are you taking care of any rescues right now?”

Saitama relaxes, fractionally. Small talk is boring but he knows this familiar routine. “Yeah, actually. I've got two orphaned rabbits. They’re doing good.”

“Wow! That’s really neat!” Mumen is always happy, it’d almost be nauseating if not for the fact that he is so genuine. Saitama actually enjoys being in his company, despite himself. Well, for short periods of time, at least. He still would rather be alone, but as far as socializing goes, most people are draining to be around, but Mumen is actually energizing. He’s only seen Mumen angry once, and it was when Saitama had passed him on the road, heading home in his truck, and hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt. Never again.

“You’re really good with animals,” Mumen continues. “I still think you should look into opening up a sanctuary or something. Seriously. You could make a living off of it.”

Saitama scratches his head awkwardly. “Nah, it’s just a hobby.”

From anyone else, he’d anticipate some kind of lecture about how he needs to get a real job, but Mumen just smiles.

“Yeah, I know that feeling. I get a little extra money off beekeeping, but that’s not why I do it. I just really love bees.”

“How are the girls doing?” Saitama asks, remembering that friendships must be maintained with mutual inquiries.

“Great!” And now Mumen has that dopey look on his face that says he's going to talk bees for the next hour. “I've already harvested about ten pounds of honey and they're still working… That's why they call them ‘busy little bees’! And I checked on your hive the other day, they’re doing great.”

“That's good,” Saitama says, although it still boggles his mind when Mumen calls the hive ‘his’. Of all the types of animals he's rescued, he'd never considered bees among them, but the way Mumen talks about bees, you'd think they were fluffy little hamsters with wings.

“I made them a new watering station the other day and they’re loving it. They're a really mellow bunch. You know, if you feed them colored sugar then the honeycomb starts to take on that color too. I've been thinking about experimenting with something that’s safe for…”

At the first sign of Bee Facts, Saitama starts to tune out, so he doesn't really notice when Mumen trails off, until Mumen cheerfully calls out, “Hi! Sorry, Saitama, I didn't know you had company.”

“Master?”

Genos. Shit. It isn't so much that Saitama forgot he was waiting, but he didn't expect Genos to come out while Mumen was still here.

“Oh. Um, th-this is Genos. He was helping me in the garden,” Saitama says, stumbling over his words in his haste. “Genos, this is Mumen. He was delivering the mail.”

Saitama doesn’t miss the suspicious glare that Genos gives Mumen.

Why?

“Because that’s his job,” Saitama says, feeling like he’s telling a dog to stop growling at the mailman.

“Woah,” Mumen exhales, and Saitama is sure that he just noticed that Genos isn’t ‘company’. “I didn't know you owned a cyborg.”

I don't, Saitama thinks. “Doctor Kuseno… gave him to me,” Saitama explains. It's the truth. It doesn't mean that he owns Genos, though. But in public they might have to pretend otherwise and the realization makes him feel a little sick.

“And he helps you in the garden?” Mumen asks. His curiosity is harmless, but it raises Saitama’s anxiety a little. It’s probably obvious, even to sheltered rural folks who don't see cyborgs on a regular basis, if ever, that Genos is way too advanced for basic labor. These questions are inevitable, and he needs a good answer. This feels like practice.

“He’s meant for protection,” Saitama says. “But he’s good at following orders, so he helps me out around the house too.” The words leave a physical lump at the pit of his stomach.

“Wow,” Mumen steps closer, cautious, but admiring Genos so openly it’s almost embarrassing. “He’s really nicely built.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, his eyes go wide. “I-I mean-! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to objectify you!”

Genos just gives Mumen a confused look, and then turns his attention to Saitama. “Master, we should be leaving soon.”

“Ah, yeah. We need to head into town to go shopping. The cupboards are bare,” Saitama explains, grateful to have the excuse to gracefully end this social interaction.

Instead of apologizing again or saying goodbye, Mumen gets a sly look on his face and says instead, “I guess it’s a good thing I came, then.”

Oh, no. No. No, no, no. Mumen was NOT inviting himself to-

“Ta-da!” Mumen whips out another piece of paper that he had folded up in his back pocket. “This is what I actually came to deliver,” he says as he unfolds it for Saitama to see. “I knew you'd want this… Right?”

It's a sales flyer with coupons. When Saitama sees the words “90% off”, the sound that comes out of his mouth is embarrassing. Mumen just smiles and lets Saitama snatch it out of his hands.

“90% off assorted canned fruits and vegetables! I could always stock up for winter,” Saitama considers. “60% off beef?! Oh man, this sale is for tomorrow only… I guess we could wait one more day to do the grocery shopping. Genos, do you mind?”

“I don't mind, Master,” Genos says. But the saddest thing is that he means it. There is no disappointment in his voice, no expectations one way or another. Genos has a battered old notebook clutched to his chest, a borrowed shirt, and his feet are bare, and he’s happy.

“So, we’ll go to the thrift shop today, and save the grocery shopping for tomorrow,” Saitama says, against the lump in his throat.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Mumen says. “It was nice meeting you, Genos!”

Genos says nothing, just narrows his eyes at Mumen.

The man doesn't seem to notice or mind. He straightens up his bike, lifting the kickstand, but Saitama hurries to stop him before he hops on.

“Hey, do you uh, do you need any vegetables?” Saitama asks. “Because I've got some produce to spare if you wanted to trade.”

“I'd love some! Thanks! I'll be home tomorrow after my route, you can stop by whenever.”

“That sounds good. Uhm, can I give you a lift back towards your place?” Saitama offers.

“No thank you! I’m going to finish my ride. There's a bunch of wildflowers down Bang’s road that I want to surprise my honey with.”

“I can never tell if you’re talking about your wife or one of your mistresses,” Saitama says.

Mumen just gives him a conspiring wink and takes off.

“Absolutely disgusting,” Saitama declares aloud with a little snort and then goes back to work.

Genos follows him like an aimless puppy, adding a few more notes to his book, but mostly looking confused. Saitama cleans up the yard a bit and grabs the crate of vegetables, setting them in the bed of his truck. Finally Genos asks, “What was he doing?”

“Mumen? He was going to get some wildflowers for his wife,” Saitama says. “Or his bees. Or both. Either.”

“Is that... disgusting?”

“Yeah. ‘Cus it’s sickeningly sweet,” Saitama smiles, and then realizes he might actually have to explain the in-joke to Genos a little. “I dunno how much you know about romantic stuff, but that’s a romance thing. Giving flowers is a traditional way to show someone that you love them. Mumen’s such a nice guy it’s almost unbearable. He and his wife are really sweet on each other. It’s not actually disgusting. But it is.”

“I see,” Genos says, although he’s not sure that he does.

 

///

 

It's well into the day by the time Saitama and Genos arrive in town. Most of the shops are busy right now with people running their errands.

Thankfully, the thrift shop is quieter. The cool, dim interior is like a little oasis from the bright heat outside. There are only two people inside - a single patron, who is quietly rummaging through the racks of dresses, and the shopkeeper sorting out new items at the front, a young lady with a flower clipped in her hair. She says a soft greeting to them, and then stares at Genos in surprise for a long time, before going back to her work.

Saitama ignores it and pulls Genos further into the store, distracting him. It’s a small town, and most people have never seen a cyborg in real life. Certainly not one like Genos. If his arms were covered, he could almost pass for human. No… Saitama catches himself. Genos might be a cyborg, but he is human. He just isn't as organic.

This is Saitama’s element. He knows the layout of the thrift shop all too well. Today everything marked with red tags will be on sale.

The racks are sorted primarily by size, so Saitama makes Genos stand still and let him look at the tag at the back of his shirt.

“This is a large,” Saitama says. “So anything from this section should fit.”

Genos looks at the rack and then looks at Saitama.

“Okay. Like this,” Saitama says, taking the nearest shirt that catches his eye. He holds it up against Genos’ chest, trying to gauge the size. It seems like it’ll fit, but Genos can't actually try anything on until they cut the sleeves off. “Do you like this one?”

“It’s blue,” Genos says, in a tone of voice that’s almost laughing.

“Yeah. What’s wrong with blue?”

Genos’ brow crinkles, but he looks amused by Saitama’s choice. “That's a medic color. I'm not part of that designation.”

Saitama frowns. “I thought blue was for, like, office workers or something.”

“Maybe for civilians.”

“What color are you supposed to wear?” Saitama asks, mostly out of morbid curiosity.

“Olive green,” Genos says, his face going blank again. “Red when I’m on active duty.”

“Wouldn't that bright color get you shot at?”

“I'm mostly made out of titanium alloy,” Genos reminds him.

“True.” Saitama stares at the rack. There are a lot of dull olive-colored shirts in the mix, very similar to the exact color of the clothes Genos was wearing when he first found him. He doesn't want to let Genos get a single one of those.

“What's your favorite color?”

“Favorite?”

“Yeah,” Saitama rummages through the selection and starts pulling out various colors, anything that catches his eye. “What color do you like the most?”

“They're just colors,” Genos says. “They're for designations. Why would I have a favorite?”

For some reason that's the saddest thing Saitama has ever heard. He shifts the pile of shirts to drape over his arm, trying to think of where to even begin.

“Because colors mean things to people,” Saitama says. “But instead of expressing what job you have, colors express… feelings.”

“I don't understand.”

Yeah, Saitama didn't expect him to. Not with the sloppy explanation he’d just delivered. Even he himself didn't quite know what the heck he was trying to say. He wasn't the type of person who analyzed these things that seemed subconscious. But he would darn well keep trying to help Genos understand.

“My favorite color is yellow,” Saitama says, tugging at his shirt. “It can mean a lot of things to different people, like sunshine and creativity. I like it because it makes me happy.”

“You wear yellow when you’re being happy?”

The strange phrasing throws Saitama for a loop. He shakes his head, because it's not quite what he means.

“No,” Saitama says. “Not always. Sometimes I wear yellow when I'm sad. And sometimes I wear it for no reason.”

“You’re confusing. If colors mean feelings how will others know when you wear the wrong feelings?” Genos mumbles.

“You're taking it too literally,” Saitama says, as gently as possible. “People wear clothes they like. I like yellow, because it makes me think of summer days, and flowers. It's bright and cheerful. But when I wear it, I don't have to be cheerful. I can do whatever I want. And I like red, because it makes me feel strong. So sometimes I wear it on days when I'm not feeling so strong.”

“I see. They enhance your ability to counteract negative emotions,” Genos says. “Yellow to counteract sadness, red to counteract weakness.”

“No,” Saitama says, trying not to take the analysis of his ‘shortcomings’ personally. “I just gave you an example of opposites. I wear yellow when I'm happy. I wear yellow when I'm sad. I wear yellow when the day ends with a ‘Y’. I wear yellow when the rest of my laundry is dirty and it's the only clean shirt left.”

“So… There is no correlation.”

“Right.”

“I don't understand.”

“Good,” Saitama thrusts his armful of clothes into Genos’s face. “Pick something that you like.”

Genos has a look on his face like Saitama just asked him to pull the pin from a grenade. “Yellow is happy…” Genos murmurs to himself. “What do the other colors mean?”

“Whatever you want,” Saitama says. “You tell me.”

Tentative, Genos touches the blue shirt that Saitama originally picked out. “This one is the color of the sky,” he says.

“It is,” Saitama agrees.

Genos glances at Saitama, and then back at the selection. He touches a soft lavender-colored shirt next. “I saw flowers this color,” he says, in awe.

“You want it?”

Genos nods and then stops, looking at the blue again. “I can't decide.”

“So we get both. What else do you want? You can pick more.”

“More?”

“Yeah.” Saitama pulls the sky blue and light purple shirts out of the pile, and sets the rest on top of another rack. “There's more than just colors, too.” He rummages through the rack, and pulls out another shirt. “See… this shirt has a slice of pizza on it.”

Saitama lifts the shirt up so Genos can see. It’s faded orange, with a picture of a slice of pizza on it. Genos stares at the shirt, and then at Saitama. He looks concerned.

“I don't want to be a pizza.”

“It doesn't mean you’re a pizza, it just means you’re wearing a shirt with pizza on it. It’s funny.”

“I don't want to wear pizza.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Saitama puts the offending shirt away. “We’ll keep it simple. What other colors do you want?”

 

//

 

Genos ends up finding several shirts, none of which are olive green or red, and a few pairs of jeans to go with it. Saitama had to sit outside the dressing room, waiting for him to find the right size. His ears had turned pink when Genos came out of the dressing room each time, asking him if the jeans he was wearing fit him correctly. By the time they leave the shop, Genos has a small wardrobe and Saitama's face feels like fire.

All of the bags go into the bed of the truck, except for a new pair of boots, which Genos wears out of the store. According to Genos, they look similar to Saitama's so he likes them.

This time, Genos buckles up without prompting. He also dozes off in the passenger seat, waking up with every bump in the road. Saitama has to wake him when they finally pull into the yard.

"You can take a nap," Saitama suggests when they bring the bags inside, but Genos shakes his head and folds everything neatly, cleaning a space in the closet to keep his new clothes.

They spend the rest of the day outside - Saitama wanting to work, Genos not wanting to be far from him while he writes. Later, Saitama makes dinner and by the time they finish eating and doing the dishes, the sun is setting and the house is dark.

Saitama isn't particularly tired, but every time he glances at Genos, the cyborg looks completely exhausted. The trouble is, Genos is too stubborn, and won't admit it. So, Saitama brushes his teeth and changes into his pajamas, hoping that if he goes to bed, Genos will too.

He takes care of the rabbits one more time, making sure they are clean and fed and content, and Genos sits down on the floor next to him.

"Will you be okay down here tonight?" Saitama asks him.

Genos stares at him for a moment. "I'm fine," he finally says, but he doesn't sound entirely present. He hasn't seemed present since they got home again, like his mind is miles away. It's written all across his face how much he needs to get some rest. "I'm going to write some more."

"You need to sleep," Saitama says, but Genos just shakes his head again. "Is there anything I can do?"

Genos is quiet for a while, watching the rabbits squirm in their box. "Leave the lights on?" he finally asks, hesitant.

"Okay," Saitama agrees, but it doesn't feel like enough. Even if Genos fell asleep, it'd only be from exhaustion. It wouldn't solve the problem. He can't really stomach the idea of leaving Genos down here by himself again.

"Hey, um... Can you help me with something?" Saitama asks.

That gets Genos' curiosity. "Yes. What is it?"

"The, uh... the rabbits," Saitama says, thinking quickly. "They haven't been sleeping that well."

"They haven't?"

"No. They've been... restless," Saitama explains. "It's hard for them, because they're in a new place, and they're used to having more rabbits around them. Now they're all alone."

Genos nods.

"So... I have to put them to bed a different way," Saitama continues, carefully scooping each rabbit out of the box. "I need your help for that."

"What do I need to do?" the earnest expression on his face is almost heartbreaking.

"You need to lie down," Saitama says.

"On the floor?" Genos asks, already drawing up his knees and scooching over so he can lie down.

"Yeah, exactly. Like that," Saitama says as Genos rests his head on the floor. "Stay really still," he adds, and then reaches out and carefully places the rabbits on top of Genos's chest. He grabs Genos's hand and brings it up, laying it over his chest, to hold the rabbits in place and keep them from hopping away. Fortunately, the rabbits are feeling cuddly. One borrows against Genos's hand, and the other crawls forward, snuggling against his neck.

"Master?"

"Don't move," Saitama says, sitting closer to him. "Just relax. Take slow breaths. Animals can sense if you're tense and it will make them tense too."

"Okay."

"This might take a while. It's ok if you want to close your eyes. I'll wake you up if you doze off."

"I won't fall asleep," Genos says, as he closes his eyes.

Saitama watches him for a while, and then turns around and lies down perpendicular to him, so his head is against Genos's side. He can feel the warmth radiating off of Genos, the slight shift with every breath. It's almost hypnotic, and Saitama is ready to fall asleep himself when Genos speaks.

"Master..."

"Yeah?"

"I don't think this is working. "Is there a medicine you can give them, to help?"

"No," Saitama says. "But... my mom used to sing me to sleep sometimes. Do you think rabbits would like that?"

"Yes. I think they would."

"Okay. But you have to close your eyes," Saitama reminds him.

"Yes, Master."

Saitama can feel his own blood pounding in his ears. He doesn't know any lullabies. Only one song comes to mind.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night," Saitama sings softly, his voice cracking on no more than a whisper. "Take these broken wings and learn to fly... All your life... You were only waiting for this moment to arise."

The words come slowly, almost shakily. He isn't a great singer. But behind him, he can feel Genos breathing, and then feels Genos's chest relax noticeably, a tension leaving him that Saitama hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night," Saitama starts again, a little braver this time. "Take these sunken eyes and learn to see... All your life... You were only waiting for this moment to be free."

No more words come. His throat wants to close up with anxiety, so Saitama just hums, pausing for breath, hoping that Genos won't notice, wondering if he's asleep or not. After a while, he trails off, and just lies there in the silence, listening to Genos breathe, waiting for him to speak.

After what feels like an hour, Saitama is too sore to stay on the floor. He gets up, slowly, and looks at Genos.

The cyborg is asleep, head tipped to the side, with two very-much-still-awake rabbits nuzzling under his chin.

Stifling a laugh, Saitama extracts the rabbits from Genos and brings them back to the box.

"Thanks for your help," Saitama whispers to the rabbits as he puts them away.

Then he covers both the rabbits, and Genos, with a blanket, and goes to bed.

 

x

Chapter Text

Saitama wakes up with the sunrise, and the raucous singing of birds outside of his window. He has the faint memory of a dream - something that unsettled him while he was still having it - but it evaporates from his head when he gets up, like the warm summer sun drying the morning dew, and Saitama doesn't question the loss.

Genos is still sleeping on the floor when Saitama comes downstairs.

He wakes up to the smell of coffee and the sound of the machine gurgling as it finishes the dark brew.

Both of them are still wearing the clothes they slept in, their feet bare, blinking sleep from their eyes.

Genos breaks the easy silence first.

"I'm sorry I fell asleep, Master."

"Don't be sorry,” Saitama says. “Did you sleep okay this time?"

"Yes. I'm feeling rested," Genos says, although his assertion is put into question by his rumpled clothes and messy hair. "Did it help?"

"Huh?"

"The rabbits. Did they sleep well?"

"Oh. Yeah. They slept like little rocks," Saitama smiles.

Saitama makes them both a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, and then steps out onto the porch to enjoy the morning air. His last surviving mug has gained a companion, one that he found at the thrift store. On the side, there’s a painting of a fawn curled up in a patch of wispy blades of grass and flowers, and a tiny chip on the rim. Genos picks up the mug and follows Saitama, joining him by the porch railing. The sunlight is starting to come through the trees, the morning fog still lingering over everything. Saitama takes a sip of his coffee, staring out at some point in the distance. Genos tries to find it, and then gives up and watches Saitama instead. He isn't sure what they're doing.

"The grocery store opens at eight. There's a couple things I need to take care of before we go," Saitama says, leaning on the railing, circling a finger around the edge of his mug. "You can wait here, if you want."

"I'll go with you."

They finish their coffee, and then go inside to get dressed. When Saitama comes back downstairs, he sees Genos standing in just his jeans and socks, still deciding on a shirt.

"Which one will it be today?" Saitama asks him.

"I feel like... this one," Genos says, lifting up the lavender shirt for Saitama to take. It's a barely-there purple, and the material is so soft to the touch, the fibers just sigh away when Saitama cuts the sleeves off. Even on Genos's bulky frame, it's a little oversized and hangs loosely around him, and the holes from the cut-off sleeves are so large, his torso is visible through them almost to his waist.

"What do you think?" Genos asks, gathering the hem of the shirt in his fists, pulling at it nervously. Saitama turns away when he realizes he's staring at the jut of a metal hip peeking out above Genos’ low-rise jeans.

"You have good taste," Saitama says, trying to look busy by pulling on his boots.

"Taste?" Genos repeats, kneeling beside him to put on his boots as well.

"It's... it's a figure of speech," Saitama says. "Good taste in clothes, good taste in music. It means that you choose things that are... good."

"I think I understand. So I look good?"

"We're going into the woods," Saitama says, choosing not to interpret Genos's last sentence as a question. He grabs his jacket and his trusty bag, full of all the supplies he might need, and heads out, Genos following on his heels.

It's a fairly long path that Saitama takes today, wanting to make up for lost time and neglected duties by covering a little more ground. Despite how heavy Genos is, he is a lot quieter in the woods than Saitama had expected, and surprisingly agile. Whoever designed him was really at the top of their game.

After making a long arc through the woods, checking different trees, they finally come to the spot that Saitama really wanted to check in on. The massive, broken tree is impossible to mistake even from a distance. Half of it is slowly withering away on the ground, but the other half is still flourishing and strong. Saitama stares up into the leaves over his head, but he can't tell from the ground, so he climbs.

It's a little harder to get his grip today, but Saitama digs in anyway, damp bark clenched under his fingers as he finds his bearings and hauls himself up. When he's high enough to see the nest, he stops.

There are no adult birds, but the fledglings are healthy, active, and the nest has been added onto.

Grin splitting his face, Saitama leans down to tell Genos the good news - but Genos isn't there.

Saitama almost falls out of the tree in his haste to get back onto the ground. Before he can bother panicking, he spots Genos a short distance away, sitting down on the ground, his back to the tree. His knees up are tucked up against his chest, head down, elbows resting on his knees, with his fingers laced above his head. Small. Defensive. As Saitama approaches, he realizes that Genos has his hands clenched together so tightly, they are shaking.

It hits him then, so obvious in retrospect. He never should have let Genos come here. He didn't even tell them where they were going. He’s so stupid.

"The birds are doing okay," Saitama says.

Genos lifts his head, resting his cheek on his clasped hands. If Saitama didn’t know better, he’d almost think nothing was wrong.

"Birds?"

"When I found you, there were also some baby birds that had been in that tree. I put their nest back up. They're doing good."

"I'm glad," Genos says, perfectly motionless. Even the shaking has stopped.

"Come on, let's go," Saitama says. "Your pants are getting wet."

Genos gets to his feet, relieved to fall in step with Saitama as they head back to the house.

"You're covered in dirt," Genos says, and Saitama grimaces as he rubs wet bark residue off of his clothes.

When they get back, Saitama makes more formula for the rabbits, and Genos sits at the table with his notebook. Saitama pretends not to notice that Genos doesn't actually write anything - just stares at a page with his head in one hand, the other hand fiddling with his pen.

After the rabbits have been fed, and allowed to run amok for a few minutes, Saitama puts them away and goes to the kitchen.

"Are you ready to go grocery shopping, Genos?"

Genos gives Saitama his full attention. "Yes."

"Good! But if we go shopping, we have to go prepared," Saitama declares, opening the cupboards. "We need to know exactly what we came for. We’ll need a list! And the first item we need on that list... is a list! Ahh, where is the paper?"

"We can use mine," Genos says, turning to a fresh page.

"You don’t have to, Genos, that's yours now-" but even as Saitama speaks, Genos rips out the page and writes at the top:

Shopping List:
1. a list

"What else do we need, Master?"

 

//

 

They build the grocery list together, Saitama dictating what they need, and Genos taking note.

“Don’t lose that now, it’s very important!” Saitama reminds him in a half teasing way.

“Yes, Master, I’ll keep it safe,” Genos promises, folding the paper with precision, so that every edge aligns perfectly, and then tucking the little rectangle of paper into his pocket.

“Good. I’ll leave you in charge of that,” Saitama says, grabbing his keys. Genos grabs his notebook and pen, and they go outside to the truck. “Before we go, we’ll stop by Mumen’s, so I can give him these.” He pats the side of the truck as he walks around, indicating the crate full of vegetables.

“What's the other one for?” Genos asks, eyeing the crate before he gets into the truck and buckles up.

“Kuseno,” Saitama says, climbing in and starting up the truck.

“To repay him?” Genos asks, curious about the barter.

“Just to thank him,” Saitama says. “I'll be giving him vegetables for a long time if I hope to ever actually repay him.”

They head out, and after several minutes of driving, Saitama points out a dirt road. “Bang lives up that way, near the side of the mountain,” he says.

“Bang?”

“Yeah. He, uh, he owns a shooting range. Gives safety courses, teaches people how to shoot. His son Garou is a sharp shooter. He has awards for it or something. I think he’s out on his second tour, though,” Saitama adds, suddenly wishing he hadn’t mentioned it. But Genos doesn't seem to know what ‘tour’ means in this context, and he doesn't ask.

After a few more minutes, Saitama turns down a private road. At the end of it is a cream-colored house, with the trim and decorative shutters all painted an emerald green. By itself, the house would be lovely, but it is completely surrounded by a lush, immaculate lawn and multiple gardens full to bursting with colorful blooms. It’s a variety of color the likes of which Genos has never seen before - sapphire blue, deep indigo, soft lilac, delicate pink, vibrant fuschia, strawberry red, fiery orange, bright yellow, and creamy white.

Beside the house there’s a terrace with a wooden pergola, covered in flowering vines, creating a living canopy. From there, a winding path of stepping stones venture out and encircle a koi pond with a small wooden bridge. In the center of the lawn, like an island rising up from a sea of green, stands a small gazebo, surrounded by rose bushes.

Genos’ eyes go wide when he gets out of the truck, trying to take everything in. He doesn’t notice Saitama haul the crate of vegetables out of the back of the truck, until Saitama walks past him, heading towards the front door.

“Can I carry that for you?” Genos asks, following on his heels.

Saitama smiles. “Nah, I’ve got it. But you can ring the doorbell.”

Genos looks intrigued and confused. When they arrive at the door, Saitama points out the white button at the side of the door with a little nod. Genos presses it, and the chime nearly startles him.

After a few seconds, they hear a noise from inside, and then a voice.

“-ing, I'm coming!”

The door swings open inward, and on the other side is Mumen, wearing a green shirt and khaki shorts. His hair is damp, and his glasses glint in the bright sunlight, reflecting the sky.

“Hey, Saitama! Genos!” He greets with a genuine exuberance that makes Saitama wish he had a tenth of that natural social energy. “Wow that's a lot of vegetables, Saitama! It looks really heavy, let me help you with that.” He plucks the heavy crate from Saitama before the other man can even object, and retreats into the house with it as quickly as a thief. “Come on in! Make yourselves at home!” He yells, disappearing around a corner.

Genos glances at Saitama, who gives him a little crooked smile and gestures for him to go first. Saitama shuts the door behind them both, and makes Genos take his boots off before they venture further into the house. It’s beautiful inside, too, Genos realizes. Shiny and clean, with features that seem more decorative than functional.

They find Mumen in the kitchen, where he’s set the vegetables down on an island countertop, next to a little vase full of flowers. These ones don't seem to resemble the lush gardens outside - they are smaller, even a little scraggly in comparison. Tiny white flowers nestled around tall spikes of purple, and happy little yellow blossoms.

“Where's your wifey?” Saitama asks.

“At the shop, as usual,” Mumen smiles. “If she's not tending to the garden here, she's tending to the flowers there.”

Genos wanders over to a sliding glass door, peering out at the terrace, shaded by a blanket of flowering vines, and the vibrant garden beyond.

“Do you want to see the garden?” Mumen asks, not quite addressing just Saitama, nor Genos directly.

Saitama doesn't answer. Genos just stares, transfixed. When Mumen opens the door, Genos steps out, drinking everything in. Mumen smiles at Saitama, and then steps out to join him.

“It’s nice, isn't it? Fubuki is amazing with flowers,” Mumen says. “She has a shop in town, and she also runs a landscaping business. See that gazebo? Saitama built that for us two years ago. You should check it out.”

Genos turns to look back at Saitama. “Master?”

“Go ahead. You can look around. Just be careful,” Saitama says, although he knows Genos was more expressing surprise than asking for permission. Regardless, Genos opens his notebook and wanders out into the garden, pen moving at a hurried pace.

Mumen glances after him, and then steps back into the kitchen.

“Did Fubuki like the flowers?” Saitama asks, looking at the misfit little vase.

“Yeah,” Mumen says, a dopey look on his face that speaks of pure affection. “She loves wildflowers. I'll go get the honey.”

Mumen leaves the room, taking the crate of vegetables with him and leaving Saitama standing in the middle of the kitchen. In this immaculate house, Saitama feels as out of place as the vase of wildflowers. He can't understand how Fubuki could actually like them. Compared to the vibrant, exotic flowers that she's grown herself, these seem so pitiful. They're practically weeds in comparison. Nothing special at all.

“Genos is really something, huh?” Mumen says, returning with two large jars of honey in his hands. “I've only seen cyborgs in the big city. What's it like, having him around?”

“Uh, I don't know. He’s pretty handy, I guess,” Saitama says. “You could probably afford one, if you wanted.”

“Ah, no,” Mumen grimaces for a moment, turning it into a polite smile. “I couldn't ever see myself owning one. I'm just curious, because most things I know about them, I've only read. What was he originally intended for?”

“Basic labor, I think,” Saitama lies, feeling the tips of his ears turning red. “Right now, he just does what I ask. Which so far has mostly been ‘pass me the salt’. He’s still settling in. I'm still getting used to having him around.”

“That’s understandable. What does he use the notebook for?”

“It’s a task I gave him,” Saitama says. “He’s making a list of everything he likes.” That makes Mumen’s eyebrows raise, and Saitama hastens to add on some kind of explanatory bullshit: “It’s um, supposed to make him more aware of his surroundings.”

“Is he actually doing it?”

The question gives Saitama pause. It’s a weird thing to ask, and between the tone of voice Mumen uses, and the way he stares at Saitama, it’s as if he already knows the answer.

“I think so,” Saitama says, realizing that he doesn’t know for sure. “He's been writing non-stop, but I haven't looked at it yet.”

Mumen lets out a little breath, and leans over the counter on his elbows, a look on his face that reminds Saitama of when his mom had to explain to him that his goldfish wasn’t swimming in the ocean with mermaids, it was actually dead.

“Cyborgs don't really have a concept of things they like or don't like. At least, not like that,” Mumen tries to explain. “He's probably making a list of everything he sees.”

Saitama wants to object, but he knows it’s unwise to tell Mumen that Genos isn't like that, he’s different. Besides… Mumen might actually be right, he realizes. Genos didn't have a concept of favorite colors, just assigned colors. He’s been writing almost nonstop since Saitama gave him that notebook. It’s very likely that Genos’ list of things that make him happy includes grass, dirt, and bugs.

“Yeah,” Saitama concedes. “He might be.”

Mumen gives him a tight smile. “You should probably tell him to stop. If you don't, he's likely to keep doing that forever. From everything I've read, cyborgs can be really literal when it comes to orders, so you have to be mindful not to give them vague commands. Plus, if they’ve never done something before, you have to teach them. After they learn, they’ll always remember, but they have to be trained first.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” Saitama mumbles.

“Just… be kind to him, though,” Mumen says. “They might be mostly parts, but they’re still living things. It’s not like programming a computer, it’s more like… training a dog. They’ll respond better to positive reinforcement.”

Saitama isn’t sure how to explain to Mumen that he has zero intentions of teaching Genos any commands. He’d thought about teaching Genos how to chop wood, how to do laundry, and maybe some other basic tasks. Not so Genos would have to do them, but so he could if he wanted to. If he needed to. And he’d daydreamed about one day teaching Genos how to joke. How to laugh. How to be happy. How to forget.

“I got the honey for Genos, so he could try it,” Saitama says instead, quietly. “Can cyborgs have honey? It won't like, gunk up their insides, will it?”

Mumen looks confused by the question. “Honey…? Yeah, that should be fine.”

“Good. I should go get him, then.”

Saitama steps outside, onto the terrace, but it's empty, and so is the garden. The gazebo also seems deserted at first glance, but between the slats he can make out a shape that shouldn't be there, sitting on the floor. Genos.

Saitama crosses the lawn, the sun-soaked grass whispering against his socks. Everything is already bright and hot. When he reaches the gazebo, he steps up into the shaded oasis, grateful for the relief from the sun, and the cool, firm wood under his feet.

Genos looks up at him from where he's sprawled on the floor, notebook open at his fingertips, pen pinched in a delicate grip.

“Master,” Genos says, in awe. “Did you really build this?”

Saitama has to tear his eyes off of Genos, to actually look at the gazebo. He touches the railing close to him, running his fingers over the wood so he can feel the grain of it, the way it’s warped ever so slightly. He barely remembers all the work, but he does remember when he finally pieced it together in the end, Mumen helping him hold boards in place so he could hammer in the nails, the frustration from not being able to make everything line up perfectly. Somewhere, the wood is stained with his blood, from the day he cut himself. He spent the entire afternoon laying down coats of white paint after that, to cover it up, so nobody would ever know. Now he can't even remember where that was.

“Yeah,” he says, but it doesn't really feel like it. Saitama barely hears what Genos says after that, only catching snatches of words at a time. Things like, “structural design”, “understated intricacy” and “functional beauty”. There’s a glimmer in Genos’ eyes as he gushes, an upward curve to his lips, and he fidgets constantly with the pen, moving it deftly between his fingers. He wonders if Genos even realizes he does that.

Suddenly, the little smile on Genos’s face drops, and a moment later, Saitama hears Mumen crossing the lawn to join them.

“Nice, isn't it?” Mumen asks, stepping into the gazebo. “Every time Fubuki sees him, she asks Saitama to build more for her. That's probably why he doesn't like to visit,” he jokes, giving Saitama a good-natured smile.

“Master, you should!” Genos says, his eyes alight, imagining the lawn dotted with endless rows of perfect little gazebos, all encircled with colorful flowers.

“Did you find more things to add to your list?” Mumen asks, changing the topic seamlessly.

Genos blinks at him in surprise, but then nods, picking his notebook up off the floor.

"There are so many flowers, I couldn't look at them all," Genos says, getting to his feet and approaching them. "And there were these... flying yellow things on them."

"Those are my honey bees," Mumen laughs, smiling. "They're collecting food and pollinating the flowers. They're harmless, so please don't disturb them."

"Are they drones?" Genos asks, perplexed.

"Uhm, actually some of them are called that! But not in the way you might be thinking. They're insects. The ones that collect nectar and pollen are worker bees," Mumen explains. "Do you mind if I see your list?"

Genos looks at Mumen, and then Saitama. "Master? Is that okay?"

"That's your choice, Genos," Saitama says. "It's your notebook."

Genos thinks for a second, and then passes Mumen his notebook. "It's not finished yet," he says, as Mumen takes it from him. Mumen nods, like a promise of understanding, and opens to the first page.

Things That Make Me Happy is sprawled across the top in perfect lettering. Underneath that, a neat list of words. Saitama only catches a few of them - 'birds', 'flowers', 'pillows', 'food that comes in colors' ...and his name.

Saitama.

 

He can't breathe.

 

Mumen turns the page, passing more neat columns of words, and then comes to the last page that Genos was working on and sucks in an audible breath.

The pages are covered in lines, and scattered words. No, Saitama realizes, gooseflesh rising on his arms despite the warm day. Not just lines, but amazingly accurate drawings, sketched all over the page. There are dozens of flowers, some in clusters, others with long stems or drooping leaves, and spiraling petals. The last space on the page is different; perfectly straight lines radiating from a single point, into an elaborate weave. The inside of the roof on the gazebo.

"I ran out of words to use," Genos says, looking embarrassed. "I already wrote 'yellow flowers' and 'pink flowers'. I didn't realize there were so many different types."

"Who taught you how to draw like this?" Mumen asks, his head tilted in curiosity.

"No one. I was just trying to write what they looked like. But it was easier to make the lines look like their shapes," Genos explains.

Mumen puts his finger on one of the sketches, with the words white and happy inside written underneath. "This one is a daisy." He taps the next one, labeled deep magenta gradually turning light pink. "These are called dahlias." Red with small, hard leaves. "These are roses. All of the flowers around the gazebo are roses, in different colors. The 'hard leaves’ are actually thorns."

Genos takes the notebook back, hastily scratching down the names as if they could be snatched away from him again. Mumen just watches, gently correcting his spelling, and then identifies some more.

"Why are these ones happy?" Mumen asks, pointing at the daisies after Genos finishes writing.

"Because they're yellow," Genos says, matter-of-fact.

Mumen gives him a pinched smile and then gives Saitama a quick glance. "How about you take a few more minutes out here, Genos? Have you looked at the koi pond yet? There are different flowers there, and if you look closely, you might be able to see the fish."

Genos is visibly excited by the idea, and he follows Mumen eagerly.

Saitama also follows, feeling less eager and more sick, roots of fear sinking into his bones.

The koi pond is as beautiful as Mumen promised, shaded by flowering bushes, and water lilies floating on the surface. Mumen points out the fish swimming just beneath sun-speckled water, and Genos is immediately absorbed, trying to capture what he sees with fast lines.

Everything seems like a dream, kind of hazy and detached. It feels like underneath it, there’s a nightmare waiting. Mumen gives him a meaningful look, and then slowly walks back to the house, making sure that Saitama is coming. He doesn’t want to go. It feels like walking into a trap, and when Mumen shuts the door behind them, he’s snared.

“You need to tell me the truth,” Mumen says, with a kind of direct, do-not-fuck-with-me tone that Saitama has only heard from him once before, and still makes him flinch. “Right now. Everything.”

Saitama shakes his head in refusal, his throat tight. He can’t. He can’t even catch his breath.

“I want to help you, but I can’t do that if you keep me in the dark,” Mumen says. “I don’t think you understand how dangerous this is.”

He isn’t dangerous!” Saitama growls, the words only coming out after he forces them. His throat feels raw, his head light, and he can’t stop sucking in air, every breath shaky but not enough.

Mumen pauses, backing away fractionally, and he lifts his hands up in the air in a placating gesture. “Saitama,” he says, slowly. “I mean that this is dangerous for him. If the wrong person saw what Genos is doing, what he’s capable of, he could be decommissioned. Do you understand?”

“No. I don’t. I don’t. I don’t understand any of this. He isn’t doing anything wrong. Why should he be killed for that?”

“Because cyborgs aren’t supposed to be able to act by themselves,” Mumen says. “Not like that. But I’m not going to tell anyone. Hey. Are you okay? I’ve never seen you like this. Do you have asthma?”

Saitama shakes his head and mumbles, “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. You’re hyperventilating. Sit down and try to slow your breathing, or you’re going to pass out,” Mumen says, his brow knit in concern.

Saitama refuses to sit, stubborn as ever, but he leans against the counter and tries to focus on his breaths.

“Listen, I don’t want anything to happen to Genos,” Mumen says as he grabs a glass from the cupboard and fills it with water. “I’ve never even heard of anything like him. He’s - he’s problem solving and ...did he really just teach himself to make art?”

“I guess so,” Saitama says, accepting the glass when Mumen hands it to him. He drinks half of it all at once, and stills feels parched.

“Do you realize how unusual that is?”

“I don’t really know anything about cyborg stuff,” Saitama says. “Everyone always talks about them like they’re just machines. But Genos… when I looked at Genos, I knew he was…”

“Different,” Mumen suggests.

“Alive,” Saitama finishes. “He was alive and I couldn’t just let him die.”

Mumen waits, patiently, and after a moment, Saitama continues trying to explain.

“When I found him, I thought he wouldn’t be able to do anything unless I told him to. So I told him to just… sit and wait while I was outside. I needed space to think, you know? I don’t know what to do with cyborgs. But when I came back inside, he made me lemonade. There was this mix, I said I was gonna do it. He didn’t even follow the directions on the label. He read them, but then he did his own version of it. Little shit,” Saitama laughs, rubbing his hands over his face.

"Yesterday you said Kuseno gave him to you. But you found him?"

“Yeah. I found him in the woods. You remember that bad thunderstorm? He was caught out in it, and he got hit by lightning. When I found him the next morning, he was barely functioning. I took him to Kuseno’s and he salvaged him and gave him back to me.”

"Okay. Kuseno salvaged him, but he's an original, right? He didn't die?"

Saitama lets out a breath. "No, he didn't die.”

“Where did he come from?”

Saitama hesitates for a moment, clenching and unclenching his fist. “He said he was commissioned for the war. He’s been in it. I don’t know how the hell he got all the way out here, but I don’t… I don’t care. Kuseno warned me that Genos was designed to be a weapon. But he isn’t a weapon, Mumen. He’s gentle. He’s just a fucking kid.”

“I know,” Mumen says, softly.

“He’s amazing. That’s what Kuseno said. Do you think he knew right away?”

“He’s… impossible,” Mumen says, letting out a laugh. “I thought he’d at least be somebody’s blank slate. Even then, what he’s doing is definitely amazing. But if he was imprinted to be a soldier, that should be the end of it. He shouldn’t even exist.”

Saitama stares at him. “What do you mean?”

“Cyborgs are mass produced, including their brains. It’s all streamlined. The second they’re created, they’re taught that they’re machines. A blank slate is given basic training, reading, writing, languages, social constructs. After that, you can train them for what you need, within limits. Imprints are more in-depth for specific occupations. It’s not just learning a skill set, it’s their entire identity, their life purpose. Without it, they can’t cope. That’s why the body is considered more valuable than the brain itself. They made them to be disposable. It’s easier to just toss it out and get a new one. When someone salvages a cyborg, they usually fix up an old model and use a blank slate. When the government does it, they call it repurposing old equipment, but they have a new imprint commissioned. They say it's more cost effective that way, but really it's just to maintain the illusion that cloned brains are just another replaceable part. After all, it can't be a human rights issue if you can't prove they're human in the first place. And cyborgs can't be human,” Mumen says, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “They're never allowed to be.”

There’s a heavy silence after he stops talking. Mumen takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes. “Sorry, I ranted a little. I just, every time I think about this stuff, it’s even worse.”

“I’ve never heard about any of this,” Saitama mumbles.

“Don’t feel bad,” Mumen sighs, putting his glasses back on. “Cyborgs are completely dehumanized to most of the population. Even some activists end up giving up. Have you heard of the CCRU?”

“The what?”

“It’s the Cyborg Civil Rights Union. They aren’t officially recognized, but there’s a number of people who are activists for them. I believe in most of what they believe in,” Mumen says, although he doesn’t look particularly enthused. “Some activists have tried to rehabilitate retired imprints, or even liberate them. It... hasn’t gone well. It’s hard to ‘save’ something that doesn’t want to be saved. They’ve had better luck with blank slates, but even those still have to be given tasks. No one’s ever been able to successfully rehabilitate a cyborg. It stresses them out too much. They can’t mentally handle it.”

Saitama is quiet for a while, trying to process whatever the hell Mumen just told him, what it all means. “What do I do?”

“What have you done so far?” Mumen asks instead.

“Not much,” Saitama admits, feeling frustrated with himself and useless. “I fixed him up. I gave him food. I let him help with dinner. He couldn’t sleep. He was like, having panic attacks or something so I gave him that stupid notebook. I told him to make a list of everything that makes him happy. I thought maybe it’d help, but I don’t know. He was so excited about it. I let him pick out his own clothes, and I think he liked that. I wanted to show him more things in town, and get something special for dinner. And let him try honey. It’s stupid, but I thought he’d like it. I feel like an idiot. You know better than I do about all of this. What am I supposed to do?”

Mumen takes a breath and straightens up, thinking for a long moment. Saitama’s insides feel weighed down with cement, dreading whatever Mumen will say to him.

“You should… take him into town. Buy something special for dinner. Give him honey. Let him try it. I bet he’ll like it.”

Saitama stares at Mumen, incredulous. “But you said if anybody realized-”

“Yeah. If anybody realized what Genos is doing, it could be bad news,” Mumen says. “You have to be really careful in public. But barely anybody here has ever seen a cyborg. If someone asks, Genos was a salvaged blank slate and you taught him everything he knows.”

“If I did, he wouldn’t be so smart,” Saitama says with a wry smile.

“Don’t be hard on yourself. He’s doing great, thanks to you.”

“Do you think Kuseno will report him?”

“Kuseno? God, no,” Mumen shakes his head. “I’ve talked to him before. He knows that it’s… complicated. I can’t help thinking that if you could only get Genos to stop calling you ‘Master’, you could almost pass him off as someone who needed a body prosthetic. The way things are heading, we’ll probably see that soon. Kuseno knows that better than anybody. And at that point, what’s the difference? Where do you draw the line?”

“What do you mean?” Saitama asks, feeling slow. There’s so much to process, he can barely follow along anymore.

Mumen just shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. Just let Genos go at his own pace. He’s doing fine.”

“Yeah,” Saitama agrees. The entire conversation leaves him feeling strange, more unsettled than anything. He’s learned things he wish he hadn’t, and at the same time, there’s still a nagging feeling like he’s only learned how ignorant he truly is. Nobody has ever successfully rehabilitated a cyborg. Nobody. What chance does he stand?

“We should go,” Saitama mumbles, as if it’s remotely pressing that he and Genos get to the store. But he wants to leave now. He knows that it won’t erase what Mumen said. It won’t make the world revert to the way it was before, because it the truth was always there whether Saitama knew it or not. But he can’t stay here, when every second feels like pins pushing into his chest. He needs to get Genos, and he needs to go home.

“Be careful,” Mumen says again, as Saitama goes out the door.

Outside, it all feels less real, like the horrible things Mumen hinted at could never happen in the light of day.

Saitama finds Genos sitting by the pond under the shade of a small tree, spots of sunlight dancing across him as the wind shifts the leaves. His boots and jeans are scuffed with dirt and grass, but his lavender shirt is still pristine, for now. Genos almost looks like he belongs there, as part of the garden. Something not wholly organic, but still alive and beautiful nonetheless.

Genos is adding meticulous detail to a sketch, his brow creased in concentration, but as soon as Saitama approaches, it smoothes out and he looks up.

“Hey,” Saitama says, softly. It’s barely a word in itself, but before he can try to muster anything else, Genos gathers up his things and gets to his feet, following him back inside without question.

Mumen isn’t there. Saitama picks up the jars of honey, and goes through the house, to the front door. “Get your shoes on,” he says.

Genos does, but glances around anxiously. “Where is Mumen? I don’t know the names for these flowers.”

“I don’t know. If I don’t recognize them, you can ask him later,” Saitama suggests, but just then, Mumen comes into the hall with a book in his hands.

“I wanted you to take this with you, Genos,” Mumen says. He turns the pages, showing that the inside of full of glossy pictures of flowers, with names and paragraphs of information written in the margins. To Saitama, it looks dull, but Genos’s eyes go bright.

“You can see a lot more flowers, and identify the ones you drew today,” Mumen said. “And when you see me again, you can show me.”

“I can have this?” Genos asks, tentatively accepting the book, like it’s made of glass.

“You can borrow it,” Mumen says. “And you can give it back to me when you’re done reading it. And if you like, I have other books you can look at after. Does that sound fair?”

“Other books of flowers?”

“Flowers, birds, bees,” Mumen says. “All types of books.”

Genos glances at Saitama, as if to make sure it was okay, and then flashes Mumen a smile. “Thank you!”

“Yes, thank you,” Saitama says, remembering himself. “Thank you, Mumen.”

“It’s no problem,” Mumen says. “If you need me for anything, you can call me.”

They leave, Saitama with his jars, Genos clutching his books against his chest.

When they get into the truck, Genos buckles himself in, dutiful. But instead of starting the ignition right away, Saitama just sits in the drive for a few seconds.

“Master?” Genos asks, after Saitama hasn’t moved for a while.

“You’re wearing purple,” Saitama says, looking at Genos. “What does that mean?”

Genos glances down at his shirt, fingering the soft material. “I don’t know,” he admits. “But I like it.” He looks at Saitama’s shirt. “You’re wearing white today. What does that mean?”

He didn’t think of anything when he put it on, but Saitama tries to think of a better answer than, Nothing.

“White is like… wiping things clean,” he says. “A fresh start.”

Genos blinks at that, and then nods, and settles back in his seat as Saitama starts the engine and pulls out of the drive. As they head down the road, Genos sets the new book in his lap, opening it and carefully turning over the pages.

“Daisies,” Genos says to himself when he finds a familiar picture, his eyes skimming over the text next to it. “New beginnings.”

x

Chapter Text

The trip to the store is a lot shorter than Genos remembers. He's vaguely aware of the trees blurring by and the radio playing something soft while he reads about flowers and the fact that something called ‘love’ apparently comes in as many varieties as there are colors. White, innocent. Red, passionate.

Before he knows it, they're driving into town. Saitama alerts him of their arrival with a chirpy, “We're here,” and Genos lifts his head in surprise, blinking at the buildings as they slowly pass by.

He'd only gotten a glimpse yesterday when they visited the thrift store, but today they’re driving through the heart of town. Small trees and flowering bushes dot everything with vibrant color. Genos carefully shuts his borrowed book and sets it aside in favor of staring at all of the little shops and signs as they pass by.

“That building with the green door is Fubuki’s shop,” Saitama says, lifting a finger from the steering wheel to indicate it, and Genos turns his head to see.

“What is the building next to it?” Genos asks.

For some reason, Saitama snorts in amusement. “The post office,” he says, a smile tugging at his lips that Genos can't figure out.

Saitama points out more fixtures of the town as they pass through - the bank, the bakery, the library, the hardware store, and finally, the grocery store.

When Saitama turns off the engine, he sits for a second, and Genos takes it as a cue not to move just yet. “Genos,” he says, at last. “Mumen warned me we're gonna have to be more cautious in public. At home you can do whatever you want, but when we're around other people, you need to… pretend that I own you.”

“You do own me, Master,” Genos reminds him.

“Well… it's more than that,” Saitama continues, uncomfortably. “Just stay close to me, and do exactly as I say, okay?”

“Yes, Master,” Genos intones, and then follows Saitama's lead to exit the truck. He still remembers what he's meant to do, but after the time he's spent in Saitama's company, it's difficult to fall back into his old training. Three paces behind at all times, back straight, eyes down-

“Genos?”

He halts in his tracks, nearly snapping to attention on reflex. There's a nervous, sick feeling that crosses him, a memory of dread in physical form. What did he forget to do? Saitama is staring at him, but to Genos’ relief, he doesn't seem angry, only confused.

“I said stay close,” Saitama says lightly. “You're in charge of the list, remember?”

“Yes,” Genos fumbles in his pocket, pulling out the folded paper.

Saitama watches him expectantly as he comes closer, and Genos wonders if he's meant to pass him the paper -- but before he can, Saitama turns away and starts walking with Genos. He almost falters in his step, but Master had told him to stay close. He isn't quite sure what's different between this and how they are when it's just the two of them alone.

“What's the first item on the list?” Saitama asks, as they enter the store.

Genos carefully unfolds the paper. “The first item is… a list,” Genos says.

“We have the list,” Saitama says, without missing a beat. “Check. Next?”

Genos reads a few items off, while Saitama grabs a cart.

“Let's get the rabbit food first,” Saitama suggests. “They have a section for animals.”

Genos is proud of himself when he spots the rabbit food before Saitama does. He grabs a bag, and sets it into the cart.

“Hey, good job. But this type isn't the best,” Saitama says, picking up the bag and looking it over. “The rabbits need some top-notch stuff, so they can be the best buns they can be."

Genos looks at a loss. "How do you know which one is good?"

"You just know. But usually the cheaper something is, the more likely it's not worth buying."

“But it says 'high-quality'. And ‘enriched’,” Genos says, confused as Saitama puts the bag back onto the shelf.

“Yeah. Labels lie," Saitama says, grabbing a more expensive bag. "Everything is always the best, which means those words are just a bunch of junk. You have to actually look at the nutritional value, figure out how good it is. Read between the lines. See what they're not telling you." He glances at Genos, and catches the look on his companion's face. "Don't look so shocked," Saitama laughs. "Everything in this world will try to lie to you."

Genos digests that information slowly, as if Saitama's words hold a greater understanding than even he intended. "Have you ever lied to me, Master?"

Those glossy black eyes are so innocent, like one of his wild animals transformed into a real boy and set loose into a world even crueler than the one untouched by human hands. He can't look away. Can't lie to him. Can't tell Genos the whole truth, either. Some little lies are okay if the truth would only hurt.

"Not about anything important," Saitama says. "What's next on the list?"

Genos recites items, while Saitama guides them through the store to find them. It doesn't take Genos long to learn how everything is organized, and he starts figuring out which items are in their current location.

"Soy sauce," Genos says, finding a section of bottles all labeled appropriately. Shopping is so easy. He grabs the most expensive one and puts it into the cart.

"Whoa. Slow your jellyroll. That costs way too much," Saitama says, putting it back. "We want the cheapest."

"But Master, you said the cheapest things aren't worth buying," Genos reminds him, confused.

"For pet food. The rabbits deserve the best. But this is just soy sauce. Cheap is fine," Saitama says. He doesn't notice the look on Genos' face when he gives that explanation.

They keep checking items off the list until they make it to the meat section.

"This chicken is the best price," Saitama says, picking up a particular type from the display. Genos wants to ask him how he decided that, what to look for, but an employee and another customer are nearby, so he stands quietly instead. Saitama stares at the selection for what seems like an overly long time, not moving or saying anything.

After a moment, the employee disappears, busy with his work, and the customer -- an older woman focused more on her shopping list than either of them -- moves on to the next aisle.

"There's no beef," Saitama says after they're gone.

"Beef?" Genos repeats.

"The one on sale. It should be here, but its not," Saitama says, the words coming out a little too fast. "Do you see it?"

"No," Genos frowns, looking around. "Couldn't you ask someone for it?"

Down the aisle, the store employee walks back into their line of sight. Instead of seeking them out, Saitama tenses and turns away.

"Let's get the rice," Saitama says, leaving abruptly.

Genos glances between Saitama and the employee and then follows after him. When he catches up with Saitama, he finds him seemingly engrossed in choosing between two identical bags of rice.

"There was a worker," Genos says, wondering if Saitama didn't notice. "Maybe they would know where to find what you're looking for."

"Maybe," Saitama agrees, not looking at Genos.

"Can you ask them for help?"

Saitama shakes his head, his lips pinched. "No. Stuff like that, I don't- I'm not good at that. Asking for help. I don't do that. Ever." He puts both bags of rice into the cart and moves on.

Genos is perplexed by Saitama's attitude as well as the denial.

"You were able to ask Kuseno for his help," Genos points out, following Saitama.

"That was for you," Saitama says, as if that changes everything. "And I didn't actually ask anything. I guess Kuseno knows better by now if I ever show up at his door."

Genos ponders his memory of the event, and realizes that Saitama is probably right. He never specifically asked for help, he just brought Genos to the doctor.

"Is that not allowed? Asking others," Genos questions, wondering if this is the reason why. Maybe it just wasn't polite. "Should I also not ask?"

"No. Asking for help is fine. I just… can't," Saitama says, searching for a way to explain it to Genos. "I'm defective that way. I don't speak to most people."

"You speak to me," Genos says.

A weird smile crosses Saitama's face, one that isn't happy at all, but looks more like he's trying not to be sick. He looks directly at Genos for a moment, somewhat pointedly, and then turns away again, his eyes scanning over the items on the shelf, but his thoughts seemingly far away. Genos stays quiet, sensing that he shouldn't ask about this again.

Saitama keeps moving, very slowly, pretending to ponder items on the shelf. Items that Genos didn't add to the list. He's wondering if he should read the next item, to remind him of what they came for, when Saitama speaks again.

"I, uhm. Years ago, I was climbing this tree," Saitama says, holding a can of vegetables and turning it over and over in his hands. "Usually I’m pretty good, but. I fell. Right on top of my arm. I felt the bone snap. Made me wanna puke. I went home and tried to deal with it myself, but I couldn’t. So. I had to go to Kuseno’s. I managed to drive all the way there and then I just…."

Saitama says nothing for a long moment, as if the silence is part of the story. His fingers find a loose corner of the label, and start picking at it. "I couldn’t even get out of the truck to go ask. I just wanted to leave. But it hurt so bad. I don't know how long I was sitting there before Kuseno realized something was wrong and brought me inside. I don’t think I even said a word the entire time. He says I was in shock, but honestly I just…" Saitama trails off, pinching his mouth shut.

It seems like he's done talking. Saitama puts the can back on the shelf, and then after a moment, turns his head to Genos and offers him a smile.

"But I’m a lot better now," Saitama reassures him.

"I'm glad you're better, Master," Genos says. But he thinks, if this is Saitama better, he's happy he never saw him worse.

They continue shopping, and when they reach the end of the aisle, Genos looks back.

"Master," he says, checking over the list. "There's something that we missed in the last aisle. I will go get it."

"Oh- okay," Saitama says. "I'll be in the next one."

Genos nods, and walks into the previous aisle. He snags another bottle of soy sauce as he passes and keeps walking, faster, until he's on the opposite side of the store, back in the meat section. He spots the store worker nearby and takes half a second to compose himself before approaching. Saitama had warned him about strangers. He has to pretend. Back straight, shoulders square, every step with absolute purpose.

"Excuse me, Sir," Genos says, greeting the employee with direct eye contact, and then politely averting his gaze. He clutches the list in his hands, as if to remind himself of his task. "My Master asked me to find the beef you have advertised for sale, but there is none on the shelf," he says, lifting his eyes again to give the employee a piercing stare under the guise of robotic ignorance. "Can you help me?"

"Uh-- y-yeah, of course! There's more out back. Give me one second and I'll get it for you… sir," the employee stutters, unnerved both by seeing a cyborg up close for the first time, and Genos' unflinching stare.

"Thank you," Genos says to the employee's retreating form, and then thanks him again when he returns with the discounted beef. His mission accomplished, he hurries back to Saitama. It's easy enough to pretend that his only purpose is to follow his master's every command when that is exactly what he wishes to do.

"Hey, Genos, did you-" Saitama's eyes bug when he sees Genos approach and dump his armfull of meats into the cart. "Whoa! You found them! Where were they?"

"They just restocked," Genos says, deciding not to tell Saitama that he had to ask. It would only make Saitama worry about the interaction.

When they cash out, they both unload the cart onto the cashier's belt.

"Wait, how did we end up with two bottles of soy sauce?" Saitama asks, and Genos just shrugs.

"I forgot to cross it off the list."

Saitama sets the bottle aside and continues unloading. The last thing in the cart ends up being a weird little rectangular box, which Genos just stares at for a second before Saitama grabs it and tosses it onto the belt with the rest of their items.

"That -" Genos starts to object loudly, but then remembers the cashier who is sneaking glances at him as she rings up their items and lowers his voice. "That wasn't on the list, Master."

"I know, I grabbed it," Saitama says calmly. Genos isn't sure what it is, but the item disappears into a bag before he can take another look at it. He stands still while Saitama pays, and then follows a step behind him, in perfect obedience.

Outside, they both relax a little.

"Can I ask you about something?" Saitama questions while they load the bags into the back of the truck. Genos watches Saitama and copies him, tying the bags closed before setting them in the bed of the truck.

"Yes, anything."

There's no one around where they parked, but Saitama keeps his voice lower than usual, regardless.

"Mumen said that… when cyborgs are made, they're imprinted for certain jobs. And it's hard for them to learn anything else."

Genos nods. "Every cyborg is given a specific designation. I'm not supposed to function outside of my designation."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I'm supposed to do the job I was created for. Nothing more. And nothing less."

"Grocery shopping?" Saitama asked, lifting an eyebrow at him.

"Following orders isn't outside the realm of possibility," Genos says carefully.

"I never said, 'Genos, do my shopping.'"

"No… but you did say I was in charge of the list."

If he were human, having Saitama stare at him so intently might have made him flinch away. But he isn't. Saitama's gaze breaks away first, looking at his purple shirt instead.

"You said blue was a color for medics, so you couldn't wear it," Saitama recalls.

"Correct," Genos agrees, and it's this line of questioning rather than Saitama's scrutinizing gaze that makes him nervous. "But you said colors mean different things now. Blue is the color of the sky. Purple--"

"Why can't you be a medic, Genos?"

"I don't… I don't have that designation. I don't have that training. I'm not supposed to."

"But what if you did?"

The suggestion makes the back of his neck tingle with fear. "Master?"

"What if you did? What if you learned?"

"I'm not equipped to learn anything outside of my designation," Genos says, the denial rolling off of his tongue easily. "Operating beyond protocol is strictly --" his fist clenches involuntarily as he stutters over the words. "Strictly forbidden. Violation can result in decommission."

"Genos…" Saitama says slowly. "I'm not. Ever. Going to have you decommissioned. You can be whatever you want to be."

"I was created with a singular purpose," Genos says, hand trembling ever so slightly. "To follow orders. Master."

"The only order you'll ever have from me, is to do whatever you want. So as far as I'm concerned, you're well within your 'designation'."

"If you say so. Master."

The clipped tones are back in Genos' voice again, shutting Saitama down, shutting himself off.

"Genos?"

"Yes, Sir?"

"Just…" Saitama trails off with a sigh. Sometimes words aren't enough to get through. "I wanna show you something while we're in town. Get in the truck."

"Yes, Sir."

//

Just past the outskirts of town, Saitama turns up a long dirt driveway that leads to a small shop with an attached garage. The entire yard is cluttered with what seems like junk. There are a few cars and trucks parked in different locations, each in varying stages of either being torn apart or repaired.

Saitama gets out and Genos follows him, staying close as Saitama wanders around. "This is Badd's shop," he says. "When he turned 18, he got drafted into the army. He was going to be deployed, front lines, a hero, just like Garou. That's what he wanted. But right after he finished basic, his parents died. He had to come home and take care of his little sister. He couldn't afford to go to college. The only thing he really knew was cars. So he turned their home into this auto shop. He taught himself everything about how to repair vehicles. And he's good at it. Every time my truck needs repairs, I try to give him my business."

"Master, what are these?" Genos asked, gesturing to the lawn near the house, which was covered with crudely constructed wooden figures.

"Oh. Badd's little sister, Zenko. She makes things out of wood. Badd is really proud of her, so he puts them on display all over the place and also sells them. They're insanely overpriced. But don't ever, ever, ever say that to him."

"What is this one supposed to be?"

"A… dog?" Saitama guessed. "Or maybe a giraffe. Or a horse."

"That doesn't look like any of those animals."

"It's abstract," Saitama suggests, and then they hear someone approaching. "Shh, don't say anything."

"Saitama. I knew that was your truck. Rotors acting up again?"

"No, truck's fine," Saitama says. "I just, uh, wanted to bring Genos by."

"Genos?" Badd repeats, looking at Saitama's guest. "Ah, fuck. Hate to say it, but I don't know fuck all about fixin' robots."

"He's a cyborg," Saitama corrects.

Badd's face twists up. "Even worse. Do I look like I have a medical degree? Or bioengineering or whatever the fuck?"

"No," Saitama concedes.

"Listen, I'd try, but I don't think my tools would be much help," Badd continues. "Isn't there some old fella that lives up your way? He used to be a doctor--" Badd stops abruptly at the sound of a car coming fast up the dirt road. It's something sleek, expensive-looking, and a molten blue color that sticks out like a sore thumb. "Ah, fer fucks sake."

A young man with short blue hair steps out of the car. Aside from the unnatural color, Saitama supposes he's objectively a good-looking guy, but there was something about the way he carries himself, and the way he leers at them as he approaches that makes Saitama apprehensive.

"What do you want, Amai?" Badd all but growls at the stranger. It's not hard to guess that they already know each other.

"As I told you yesterday, you owe me for scratching my car," Amai says. "You can start with a full detail."

"An' I told you, I didn't scratch yer fucking car, so I don't owe you anything."

"The paint job is ruined," Amai snarls. "It's going to cost thousands."

"There isn't a mark on it! An' if you want to keep it that way, you can get the hell off my property," Badd says.

"This is how you run your business? Refusing to serve your clients?"

"Paying clients only," Badd retorts. "I don't serve freeloaders."

"Freeloader?" Amai repeats with a softened, venomous edge to his voice. His sights turn to Saitama and Genos, assessing them both in a way that makes Saitama's stomach sick. "You want to talk about who's a freeloader?" he asks, looking at Badd with contempt. "At least I didn't dodge the draft."

Badd takes a quick step towards Amai, his fists clenched at his sides. "I didn't dodge shit! You think I'm some kinda fuckin' coward?"

"I think you're lucky your parents are dead," Amai snaps back. "Otherwise you'd have to step up and fight for your country, like I did."

"What the fuck would you know about fighting? Yer dad paid to keep you in a nice cushy job. I was ready to die to keep my little sister safe, but she needed me to take care of her first. You never had to sacrifice a damn day of yer life!"

"We need to go," Saitama mumbles, trying to pull Genos along with him, but as soon as he moves, Amai zeroes in on them again, cutting in front of Genos.

"See, this is what I'm talking about," Amai declares, pushing his finger against Genos' chest. "Wasted resources."

Badd makes an irritated sound. "What the fuck are you on about now?"

Amai's tone is cold. "Both of you should be dying on the frontline right now. If it were up to me, I'd have you shot as deserters." He jabs his finger against Genos again, for emphasis.

"Take your hand off of him," Saitama says, pulling Amai away by the wrist. That was a mistake. Amai might not have seen battle, but at this point he seems ready to prove a point. His fist hits Saitama square in the face, and the agony is instantaneous.

"Master!" Genos sounds terrified and far away. The entire world is tipped sideways, and Saitama struggles just to stay upright on his feet until the feeling subsides.

"Touch me again and I'll kill you myself," he hears Amai say, in no uncertain words.

"Get the fuck out of here!" Badd shoves Amai towards his car, and suddenly both men are grappling.

"Knock it off," Saitama chokes out, breath catching on something wet. He can smell the metal tang of blood and taste it at the back of his throat. It starts spilling from his nose in warm, barely noticeable drops that bloom bright red when they hit his shirt. The world rights itself and Saitama watches Amai trying to punch his way out of a headlock for a few split seconds before he realizes that Genos has very calmly raised one arm, his palm aimed directly at Amai's back.

"STOP!" Saitama yells, snatching Genos' hand out of the air in a blind panic before the cyborg can power up. As soon as his skin touches Genos' hand, he's met with searing hot pain. Genos' expression changes from murderous to horrified.

"Master--"

Instead of jerking away, Saitama squeezes as hard as he can and drags Genos away like both of their lives depend on it. He's dimly aware of the fight between the two men breaking up. Amai threatening to call the police. Badd inviting him to do just that, because like his car, Amai doesn't have a scratch on him and he's still trespassing. All Saitama cares about is getting to his truck and getting Genos the hell out of there.

Saitama throws open the passenger door and forces Genos in. When he finally rips his hand away, a couple layers of his skin stays fused to the palm of Genos' hand.

He slams the door on Genos' side and then gets into the driver's seat, peeling out of Badd's faster than he's ever gone before. Saitama drives as far away as he can as fast as he can, until it's too much -- his head and his hand are both radiating pain. Miles from anything, Saitama pulls off to the side of the road, and delicately puts his head in his hands.

"What the hell were you thinking?"

Genos avoids looking at Saitama, staring out the windshield. "He hurt you. He said he'd kill you."

"So, what?" Saitama looks at him, searching for a shred of guilt, remorse, uncertainty, anything. He can't deal with Genos pulling the emotionless cyborg act right now. "You were going to kill him first?"

Genos's eyes are glistening when he turns to Saitama, but his expression is hard. There's something about it that reminds Saitama of the same look Genos had on his face earlier, just before he tried to fire his incinerators. The intention.

"Yes," Genos says, as if the answer is obvious. As if there is no other alternative.

"You can't, Genos," Saitama says, his voice raising a little as his fear grows. "You can't just kill someone."

"Of course I can. I was made to kill people," Genos says, the statement of fact filled with a certain level of self-loathing. "I killed plenty of people in the war."

"That's what war is, Genos!" Saitama objects. "Did you kill people just because you wanted to?"

"No. I did what I was ordered," Genos says, his hand starting to shake badly enough for Saitama to notice. It's the same one that still has Saitama's skin melted onto it. "I didn't think much about it."

"That isn't your life anymore. You aren't at war. You can't kill anyone," Saitama says, trying his best to emphasize every sentence, to make Genos understand.

"I could," Genos assures him, quietly trembling with barely repressed emotion. "A man like that, I could."

"You can't!" Saitama shouts at him, and something in Genos snaps.

"Why not?!" Genos yells back, feeling tears of frustration finally start to spill over. "That's what I was made for. Why shouldn't someone like that get what he deserves?

"Because they'll take you away from me!"

The pained look on Saitama's face sinks into Genos even before the words do.

"I don't give a shit about him," Saitama confesses. "But I can't lose you. Maybe they made you with one purpose in mind, but this is your life now. You're so much more than that."

"I wanted to keep you safe," Genos whispers.

"That's funny. I was thinking the same thing about you. I guess we both did a shitty job of that, huh?" Saitama points out, with a soft laugh, and Genos' vision blurs as the tears suddenly start falling. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hey," Saitama cups Genos' face, wiping away the black oil tears with his bare hands before they can drip. "Don't cry! You're gonna ruin your shirt."

Genos wants to protest -- Saitama's right hand is still raw from a fresh burn, but it's already too late to stop him. Saitama's fingers swipe away the oil as quickly as it comes, heedlessly wiping them off on himself over and over again until the tears subside. When he's done, Genos' face is clean and his clothes are still pristine, unblemished.

"There," Saitama sighs in relief and puts a smile on his face. "Everything's fine."

But Saitama's once white shirt is stained in red and black and a strip of his skin is burned onto Genos' hand, and despite how hard Saitama keeps trying to convince him that he doesn't have to be an weapon of destruction, Genos is terrified that he'll never be anything else.

 

x

Chapter Text

Saitama is the first one out of the truck when they get home. Before Genos can even think to object, Saitama starts gathering up the handles of their grocery bags.

"Mas-"

Saitama yanks up two fistfuls of bags and then immediately drops half and grimaces, cradling his injured right hand against his chest. He doesn't try again, but instead goes inside without saying anything, leaving Genos standing in the yard with the rest of their bags in the back of the truck.

Genos takes all of the remaining bags at once and carries them inside before Saitama can return. It's such a small task, and not nearly enough to give him any relief from feeling like a burden. He finds Saitama just standing in the kitchen, the contents of his bags spilled across the counter, holding a cold package of beef in his hands.

Neither of them move for a moment until Genos carefully releases all of his bags onto the kitchen floor. Saitama watches him, wary, and then turns away.

"Thanks," Saitama mumbles, setting the frozen package onto the counter and taking a step away. "I'm gonna… shower. I'll sort everything out after."

Genos watches Saitama retreat, one-handedly pulling his ruined shirt off as he goes and discarding that and his boots on the floor before he reaches the bathroom and shuts himself in.

The groceries are still scattered on the floor, cold food and milk left sitting out in the summer heat. He could have simply asked for Genos to put them away. It's not like he doesn't know where things go by now. But he won't, Genos realizes. Saitama won't give commands and he won't ask for help and he won't admit how much pain he's in.

Genos starts putting the groceries away, methodically sorting the freezer space and refrigerator and cupboards as he goes until everything he's touched is in order. He hears the shower shut off and stands beside the kitchen counter, waiting for Saitama to return.

The only thing left that he can't figure out is the thin, rectangular box that Saitama had added to their cart. Genos had set it aside while he took care of everything else, but now that he's finished, he can't help but be a little bit curious. The box is made of colorful material and whatever is inside clicks together quietly as he turns it over in his hands.

As he inspects one of the short edges, it realizes that he could open it without Saitama knowing. It seems like the box is folded together, and he could just… carefully… see if this flap will open up without tearing...

It does. Genos tips the box at eye level to peer inside of it, and--

Two dozen different colored sticks all pour out at once and clatter across the kitchen floor.

Genos goes completely still.

The house is quiet. Too quiet. There's no way Saitama didn't hear that. He groans to himself and starts trying to find all of the sticks and put them back into the box before Saitama comes out, but he already knows it's a useless venture.

Each of the sticks are made of wood, he realizes, and have a pointed end, similar in shape to the pens he's used before. But instead of a tip that dispenses ink, each wooden stick has a colored tip that matches the color its been painted. As he picks them up, he can't help but notice the variety. There's blue and green and yellow, but also several different things that all look blue, but aren't the same blue, and even one that he can't decide if it's more blue or more green. On the side, there's small writing printed in metallic gold that reads, Aquatic Jade.

Another one, pinkish and pale, reads, Ivory Satin.

Bemused, Genos picks up one that is a pure red, but the name on the side says, Celestial Crimson.

A light purple that nearly matches his shirt: Delicate Lilac.

Genos tucks it into the box with the rest as Saitama leaves the bathroom and walks over to him. There's a sigh, followed by a laugh and Genos glances up to see Saitama, towel tied around his waist, rubbing his hand over his face as he shakes his head.

"I should've known better than to leave you alone with your present. So much for surprises," Saitama mutters to himself.

Saitama sounds more amused than angry, but Genos is still a little unsure. He doesn't understand what Saitama just said any more than he understands what these things are. He picks up another stick. Burnt Onyx

"I was curious," Genos explains weakly, feeling even more useless. "I didn't mean to make a mess."

"It's not a big deal," Saitama says. "I just wanted to give them to you myself. So… do you like them?"

Genos looks at Saitama, confused. "What are they?"

"Colored pencils," Saitama says, with a laugh. "It says that on the box. You can use them for your notebook instead of having to write down what all the colors are."

"These make color?" Genos asks, floored by the revelation that he could hold a color in his hand. He's even more ecstatic when he opens his notebook and tests one of the pencils, making a streak of Vivid Amaranth across the page, and then another, and another.

Saitama leaves Genos to it for a while, heading upstairs to get dressed. When he comes back, Genos has retrieved all 24 of his pencils, but in his haste to try them all, every single one is out of the box again, laying all around him on the floor. His open notebook looks like it's been attacked by a toddler left alone with sugar and art supplies.

"I take it you like them after all," Saitama guesses.

"Yes! I do," Genos says, his tone earnest as ever. "Thank you."

Saitama shrugs, sitting down in a chair at his dining table. "I figured they'd be nice for you to have," he says.

His tone is calm, but Saitama's body language reads pain. Genos notes how Saitama holds his right hand away from him, supporting his arm so that it hovers in the air, safe from touching or being touched by anything.

"Is your hand okay?" Genos asks, although he already knows it isn't.

"It will be," Saitama tells him.

"You can have this one," Genos offers, touching his own hand, where Saitama's skin has marked it.

Saitama smiles faintly at the notion. "How would that work?"

"Kuseno could attach it to you instead," Genos says, getting to his feet and moving closer to his master. "You deserve to have it more than I do."

"But then how will you finish your list, or draw pictures for me?" Saitama asks.

"I'll learn to use my other one," Genos says, but he remembers how hard it was to learn in the first place. He'd been forced to spend endless hours practicing until his motor skills were fully developed.

"It's yours, Genos, keep it," Saitama laughs, dropping his head and slowly flexing his fingers, as if to gauge the level of damage. "Humans can bounce back from a lot of stuff. In this case, chopping off my hand would be a lot worse. It just needs to heal."

"I see," Genos says, although he didn't really understand human physiology beyond what he had been taught, and the only thing he had been taught was how much damage he needed to inflict on someone to kill them. Humans are so fragile. If Saitama had been a few seconds too slow to stop him, his skin would be black instead of red and the idea horrifies him. He doesn't want to know exactly what his touch is capable of. He doesn't want that ability. He'd rather cut off both of his hands than hurt Saitama ever again.

Why can't you be a medic, Genos? What if you learned?

"How do I…?" Genos halts, unsure of what to even ask. "How do I make it heal?"

Saitama blinks up at him for a second. "Do you want me to teach you first aid?"

"What is 'first aid'?"

"It's what medics know," Saitama says. "But I'm not an expert, especially with people, so I can only teach you a little."

"Yes. I...I want to learn," Genos says, clenching his fists tight against a wave of anxiety. His world feels tilted, like just uttering the words will make the sky open up and swallow him whole.

"Okay," Saitama says, so calmly, like it's nothing. His voice brings Genos' anxiety down almost instantly, reminding him that things are different now. He could be different now.

"Go into the bathroom and look in the cupboard for antibiotic ointment and gauze," Saitama says. "Read the labels. One is a tube and the other will be in a little box."

Genos leaves, finding a small comfort in having a clear task to perform. He finds the items after a minute, and comes back to Saitama.

"Alright. I'm going to sit here and you're going to treat me," Saitama tells him.

"What do I do?"

"I'll tell you. Come here," Saitama says, shifting to the edge of his seat and letting his hand rest against his leg. Genos kneels down, reaching for Saitama's hand but stopping just short, too afraid to touch until Saitama guides Genos' hand under his and holds it there.

"You need to assess the damage," Saitama says. "How bad is it?"

The inside of Saitama's hand is blotched in red, the skin raised and wrinkled in places. It looks painful but the worst damage is on the bottom part, where a two inch section of skin is torn away. Celestial Crimson edged in Ivory Satin.

"You have a hole in your hand," Genos says, wincing at the sight of it.

"It's only skin," Saitama says.

Genos eases his other hand under Saitama's and turns his right hand palm up next to Saitama's. The white strip of skin beginning to peel from his palm is almost an exact match for the raw gouge taken out of Saitama.

"Can I put it back?" Genos asks, hoping against hope.

"No. That's dead now," Saitama says. "Focus on what you can still save."

Genos frowns and gently cradles Saitama's hand in his.

"The first thing you should do for a burn is immediately run the area under cool water for ten to fifteen minutes," Saitama says. "You want to get the heat out of the skin, to stop the damage. Which, obviously I didn't do."

"Is that bad?"

"It's not good," Saitama sighs. "But there's nothing for it now. I want you to put a thin layer of antibiotic over the red areas."

"Okay," Genos fumbles for the tube in his haste to open it.

"Ea-sy," Saitama hisses at the first touch of Genos' fingers, despite his best efforts to be gentle. "If this was an emergency, you want to stay calm. You're trying to care for someone who's hurt and scared. If you're stressed and rushing, you'll stress them out too."

"Are you scared of me, Master?" Genos wonders. "Because I... hurt you?"

"No," Saitama assures him. "But animals are always afraid of us. Humans are apex predators. We can find ways to hurt almost anything. Even without meaning to," he adds.

Genos is silent as he finishes putting the ointment on Saitama's hand. Mere hours ago, this would have been something he cherished, being allowed to run his fingertips over Saitama's hand, but every time Saitama flinches involuntarily, he hates himself a little bit more.

"I'm sorry," Genos says. "I'm sorry for hurting you."

"That's not your fault. I'm the one who grabbed you," Saitama reminds him.

"But I said I wouldn't use my incinerators," Genos recalls. "And I ended up lying to you."

"Everybody lies. Use the gauze now," Saitama instructs. "Wrap it neatly, so the burns are protected. Not too tight. That's perfect. All done."

Genos watches Saitama pull his hand away, smoothing the end of the gauze out so it sticks to itself. "Will that make it heal?"

"No," Saitama says. "The body heals itself. This will just keep it safe, so I don't get an infection."

"What is an infection?"

"Um. Well, there's bacteria on everything," Saitama says. "They're like really, really tiny bugs that you can't see unless you look at them through a microscope. And if they get inside your body, it makes it harder to heal and they can make you really sick. That's why you need to clean cuts or scrapes with antibacterial stuff."

"I see," Genos says, trying to process the information. Tiny bugs crawling inside of Saitama sounded nightmarish. He was glad that they'd made sure that wouldn't happen. "How do you heal yourself, then?"

"It just… happens. You're made out of metal, but humans are made out of cells, and all of those cells are alive -- well, except for the ones that are dead, because cells die and get replaced all the time -- crap, I'm gonna explain this so badly," Saitama groans. "Just look."

He shows Genos a mark on his left hand, where he'd cut himself open in Mumen's gazebo. The scar is a crooked line, paler than the rest of his skin, and Genos sucks in a breath at the sight of it.

"Can I… touch?"

"Yeah," Saitama says. "It doesn't hurt."

Genos' fingers are on him immediately, running over the spot. Aside from the line being slightly raised, it doesn't feel any different from the rest of Saitama's skin.

"Your body can weld itself back together," Genos says, full of awe.

Saitama's eyebrows raise. "That's an interesting way of seeing it," he says, and then slips his hand out of Genos' as he stands. "You did a good job. Make sure you pick up when you're done coloring."

"Yes…" Genos trails off, somewhat surprised when Saitama walks past him and exits the house altogether. The screen door snaps shut behind him, leaving Genos sitting on the floor with the first aid supplies and his new pencils to put away.

"Yes, Master," he says to himself.

 

//

 

The hardest part for Saitama is realizing how useless he is right now.

He can't throw himself into any task, because so much of it relies on his hands. Can't work in the yard, can't lift, can't do anything that needs both of his hands.

Maybe in the near future, some gloves would go a long way to enable him, but right now his wounds are still too tender. His nose is full of dry blood and his hand feels raw and anything, absolutely anything touching it is awful.

Saitama takes his frustration out on the garden, ripping fistfuls of weeds out of the soil until he has a pile of them thrown on the ground and his jeans are covered in dirt. So much for a shower. But even covered in dirt he feels so much better for having done something.

He pulls up two onions to use for dinner and goes back inside.

Genos has been on a cleaning tear again. His notebook and pencils are neatly put away on the counter, and the first aid supplies are gone, presumably back into the bathroom cupboard. Saitama doesn't remember taking care of his ruined shirt, but that's gone as well, and his boots are tucked in a corner and suspiciously clean and Genos is scrubbing the dining table.

Saitama didn't ask for any of that, but he doesn't want to point out that fact and have Genos close himself off again. It's only a matter of time before Genos will feel comfortable enough to let the pretense drop.

For now, Saitama leaves him be. The rabbits need tending again. Mixing their formula and feeding them is an interesting challenge with only one fully functional hand. Interesting for him, anyway, but it's not any fun for the kits. They both get a little stressed because of the strange way they're being handled during the feeding.

"Come on, baby girl, eat up," Saitama coaxes one, stroking the rabbit's soft fur while trying to tempt her with the bottle, but she refuses. The other rabbit is the same way. He notices Genos staring at him while he struggles.

"Honey. Babe. Darling. Please eat. My sweet summer child. For the love of all that is good, Thumper, work with me here."

All of his sweet talk falls on deaf little bunny ears. In the end, both of the kits eat less than usual and then become too agitated for him to justify hanging onto them any longer.

"Damn it," he sighs, and sets the buns back into their box to calm down.

He barely manages to make dinner for Genos and himself, finding the chore of cleaning and cutting the onions to be especially tricky with his non-dominant hand. Genos keeps hovering near him, so Saitama keeps sending him away - turn the heat down on the rice, go get the soy sauce, see if the beef is done cooking, add these spices - until he finally manages to chop both bulbs into decent sized chunks.

Once he's no longer struggling with a knife in his hand, Genos stops hovering. Mysteriously, the dining table sets itself, with plates and utensils and even the infamous pitcher of lemonade and two glasses.

"Hey, thanks," Saitama says softly. "But for this one, we want bowls." He takes a couple bowls out of the cupboard, and fills one with rice, topped with the beef and onions.

Genos replaces the plates, and then is immediately met with a hot bowl thrust into his hands.

"Gyudon," Saitama says, making Genos take it. He fills up his own bowl and they sit down together to eat.

With anyone else, it would either embarrass him or frustrate him to tears, having so much difficulty getting the food into his mouth, but Genos is still equally horrendous at it. Instead of putting himself through pain, Saitama just settles for the novelty of trying to use his left hand. He's terrible at it, but at least he's in good company.

"Do you want lemonade?" Genos asks, offering the pitcher.

Saitama eyes the cold, refreshing death trap.

"I do, but… it's way too strong," Saitama admits. "I can't drink it like that."

"Oh."

"Can you fill my glass halfway with water first?"

"Yes! I can do that," Genos agrees, nearly tipping over his chair when he jumps up.

While he's occupied, Saitama also gets up. It's been a long day already, and his hand still hurts a lot. Without some relief, he won't be able to sleep, either. Saitama comes back with a bottle of ibuprofen just as Genos comes back with his glass. While Genos tops it off with lemonade, he stares at the bottle, probably trying to figure out what it is while Saitama attempts to open it. He tries pushing it down against the table while turning the lid with his fingertips, but it just won't work. Finally, he gives up, and gives in.

"Help," he says, passing the bottle to Genos.

"What is it?" Genos asks, turning it over in his hands first. Saitama knows Genos can read, but without knowledge or context the words are still meaningless to him, like not knowing what a 'pencil' is.

"Ibuprofen. It's a type of medicine. It'll help with some of my pain," Saitama explains to him. Genos tries to twist the lid open, and the look on his face is priceless when it doesn't open. He tries again, blinking in sharp confusion at Saitama's laughter while the lid keeps turning without opening.

"It's a safety cap," Saitama says, before Genos gets too frustrated or thinks Saitama is trying to trick him. "That's why I can't open it. You need to push down on the lid and turn it at the same time."

The lid pops off, and Genos pours an entire handful of the pills out.

"Thanks," Saitama says, picking just two out of the cyborg's hand and taking them with his lemonade.

"Do you want more?" Genos questions.

"Nope. Two pills every… what is it, four hours? Is the maximum dose. If I take a lot at once, it could screw up my insides or even kill me. Every medicine you take, you should follow the directions. They're written on the bottle."

Genos tilts his head sideways, looking at the writing on the bottle, and then carefully puts the pills back inside and puts the cap back on, so he can read it.

"Uses: temporarily relieves minor aches and pains due to menstrual cramps, backache, headache, toothache, the common cold, minor pain of arthritis, muscular aches, temporarily reduces fever," Genos reads. "It doesn't say it helps with burns."

"Okay. No, I guess it doesn't," Saitama agrees. "But it helps with various pains, so trust me."

Genos squints a little like he doesn't quite believe him, but he doesn't press the issue. "What do all of those words mean?"

"I'm not explaining all of those tonight," Saitama shakes his head, already exhausted at the thought of it. "Pick just one."

Genos looks at the bottle again and then back at Saitama. "Menstrual cramps."

"Okay. Well," Saitama begins, and then stops himself. Explaining menstruation to Genos in itself isn't something that bothers him, but he realizes that if he does, he'll have to explain female anatomy as well. And if he explains female anatomy, he'll probably have to explain male anatomy too, and then from there it just goes into a whole can of worms that ultimately leads to him having to explain reproduction and pregnancy and kids and-

"On second thought… No. Pick a different one."

Genos looks offended. "But I want to know. You said you would explain things to me."

"I… I will. That topic is just a lot to explain, Genos," he says, but Genos still looks annoyed. "Okay, fine. Short answer: menstruation is a type of bleeding that some humans go through. It's normal for them, but it can be really painful. I'm not one of those types of humans, so it's not applicable to me. Now pick something else."

Genos seems satisfied enough by the answer, and looks at the list again. "What's fever?"

"Fever is when your body temperature gets too hot," Saitama says. "The average normal temperature is 98.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets higher than that by even a few degrees, it's called running a fever. If your temperature gets too hot, like over 103 degrees, it can be dangerous."

That explanation makes Genos look strangely concerned. "Master… did I make your temperature too hot?"

"No. That's different, Genos," Saitama says quickly. "A burn damages your skin. A fever is your whole body being too hot. It can sometimes happen when you're sick."

"Sometimes? But not always?"

"No, not always.There are a lot of different ways people can be sick," Saitama says, picking at his food again.

"If you don't have a fever, how will I know if you're sick?" Genos asks.

"You'll just know," Saitama assures him. "There are signs and symptoms. I'll act differently. Too much coughing or sneezing or…" he trails off, derailed by a different thought.

"Or?" Genos prompts.

"Um. This is different, but. You should probably know about it. Before it happens, so you aren't, like… worried," Saitama begins, trying to think of what to say. "I've got depression. I always have it, even when I'm okay. And I'm okay a lot of the time. But sometimes… sometimes my brain just gets stupid. I start thinking bad things, like that my life is meaningless. But it's just my brain lying to me."

"If you know it's lying, then why would you listen to it?" Genos questions. Saitama kind of hates how perfectly reasonable the question seems.

"Most of the time I don't," Saitama says. "But when my depression gets bad, I start believing it's true. If I get that way, I might be really mean to you. It changes my mood. It doesn't let me enjoy anything, or feel happy. Sometimes it only lasts for a little while, but other times it can take days or months before I start thinking right again."

"What can I do to help you?" Genos asks. He really doesn't get it.

Saitama just stares at him for as long as he can bear, and then drops his head, looking at his cooling bowl of gyudon. "You can't," he says simply. "Just tell me I'm being stupid and then ignore me until I stop. Don't worry if I get mad. I'll get over it."

For a long, heavy moment, Genos seems to struggle with that notion, as if he wants to object. In the end he doesn't say anything at all, to Saitama's relief. He didn't want to argue about it.

"If I'm ever cut and bleeding badly, you can help by keeping the blood inside," Saitama says, eager to change the topic again. "For little cuts, a little antibacterial and a band-aid will do just fine, but if it's a serious injury, always stop the bleeding first. You can use cloth to make a tourniquet, or your hands to press on the wound and staunch the blood flow. Humans can only stand to lose so much blood before they go into shock or die."

Saitama's tone is informative and matter-of-fact, but Genos… Genos looks disturbed by all of this information. It's only then Saitama realizes how dark the topic has gotten.

"Sorry, that's a lot," Saitama says. "What are you thinking?"

Genos takes a breath. "I think… there are a lot of ways for humans to die."

"Yeah," Saitama agrees. "When it comes to first aid, the worst case scenario is always going to be death. But that's just the worst case scenario. Most of the time it's no big deal. Once this burn heals a little, I can handle things myself. But if you wanna learn I'll be right there to walk you through it."

"But what if…" Genos trails off, nervously clenching his hands.

"What if what?" Saitama prompts, patiently.

"What do I do if you die?" he whispers, looking on the verge of tears.

"First of all, that isn't going to happen. Not for years and years and years until I'm old and shriveled up like a raisin, and then I'm just gonna walk out into the woods and let the birds come and carry me off," Saitama says. "But if anything does happen to me, or anything bad happens and I'm not around, go find Kuseno. He'll know what to do. If Kuseno isn't available, then find Mumen. Okay?"

"Okay," Genos agrees.

"Let's not think about this stuff anymore," Saitama says. "Eat up before your food goes cold. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can have dessert!"

"What's dessert?"

"You'll never find out if you don't clean your bowl," Saitama warns, sing-song. Genos' eyes are alight with a hesitant curiosity, and then he starts digging into his food, double-time. Saitama laughs and tries to catch up, until it's nearly a race between them.

When they're done, it takes another five minutes just to clean up the terrible mess they made. Saitama leaves Genos to finish wiping down the table while he retrieves their special treat from the truck.

He lets Genos open one of the jars while he toasts some bread.

"What is it?" Genos asks, peering inside and watching the amber-colored liquid move slowly. It's warm and syrupy from sitting in the summer heat all day.

"It's called honey," Saitama says.

"But what is it?" Genos repeats after no explanation comes.

"I could tell you, but, I think you should ask Mumen next time you see him. He'd have a lot more to say." Saitama smiles to himself in amusement at the idea. Mumen could happily talk about bees all day, and as many questions as Genos has been asking lately, they'd probably go back and forth for hours.

"Could you just tell me anyway?" Genos asks while Saitama spreads some of the honey onto a hot piece of toast.

"No. Open up," Saitama says, guiding the toast to Genos' mouth. The cyborg frowns at him and then opens his mouth and makes a sound of annoyance when Saitama jams the toast in, forcing him to take a bite.

Saitama watches Genos' face as he chews, finding a slightly twisted joy in seeing Genos struggle to process it.

"It's--" Genos is clearly at a loss for words.

"It's sweet," Saitama offers, and then takes a bite from the same piece of toast, finishing it off. The warm, honey-soaked bread melts in his mouth, just as nice as he remembered.

"It's sweet," Genos repeats. Saitama makes him another and lets him have the whole thing this time, amused by how Genos holds the toast gingerly, like it's actually covered in precious gold.

He's a little less amused when, after devouring the slice, Genos tries to stick one of his fingers into the jar of honey.

"No! Use a spoon!" Saitama scolds, taking one out of the drawer. "Hey," he pulls the spoon away before Genos reaches for it. "Just one spoonful, and that's it for tonight."

Genos takes the most heaping spoonful possible, but Saitama can't really blame him. He dips the butter knife again for himself and puts the jar away while taking tiny licks from the flat of the blade. The flavor is almost overwhelmingly rich and sweet.

"Good?" Saitama asks.

"Good," Genos agrees, and then almost immediately drips honey onto his shirt.

Saitama sighs.

 

//

 

After a crash course in how to do laundry, whatever energy Saitama had left is gone. He sits down on the grass, watching bumblebees bump into clovers and tiny white flowers, while Genos fiddles with the clothespins.

The sun is only now starting to dip behind the treeline, the hot day cooling off in the late evening. Their clothes make a colorful assortment, swaying gently in the breeze.

"I know it's early, but I think I'm gonna go to bed soon," Saitama says, tugging at blades of grass between his fingers. "But I don't want to unless you'll be okay," he adds, remembering how much Genos struggled to fall asleep.

"I'll be okay, Master," Genos says. "If you're tired, you should sleep."

"What are you going to do?" Saitama asks him, wary of Genos staying up too late all alone with his own thoughts.

"I thought I'd read more of my book until I get tired," Genos says, coming closer to Saitama's spot on the grass. "But if you want me to, I could lay down with you. For a while. Just to help you fall asleep."

The suggestion alone pierces Saitama with unwanted anxiety.

"Sorry, n-no," Saitama says, crossing his arms over himself. "I don't like anyone in my personal space. It makes me really uncomfortable."

"I don't understand that," Genos says. "But I want you to feel safe with me. So I won't get into your personal space."

Saitama wants to correct himself slightly, to tell Genos that he does feel safe with him, but he doesn't want to make things confusing. "Thanks," he says instead, oddly dissatisfied. "Maybe you could read to me for a while out here."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Go get your book," Saitama says. Genos takes off running to get it, and Saitama tips back onto the sun-kissed grass, resting his arm across his stomach.

When Genos comes back he sits down next to Saitama, mindful to keep a gap between them. A large gap. Saitama closes his eyes and doesn't say anything. He almost regrets saying anything at all in the first place.

"Mumen had daisies at his house, and they're in this book too," Genos explains almost excitedly, turning through the pages. When he finds his place, he settles down and then starts to read.

"The daisy is a perennial flower which can be found growing wild in almost any temperate region. These cheerful flowers symbolize innocence, happiness, and fidelity. Daisies are actually a composite of two flowers in one; the inner petals, called a disc floret, and the outer petals, called the ray floret. This perfect union between the two flowers also makes the daisy a representation of true love..."

Saitama listens to Genos read for a long time, not really interested in what he was talking about, so much as he enjoyed hearing the excitement in his voice. If he liked flowers so much, Saitama wondered what would happen if he got Genos even more books. He could already picture Genos geeking out over a book about outer space, or inventions, or weird animal facts.

He isn't sure when he fell asleep, only that when he wakes up again, he's still lying in the sun and Genos is still reading.

"...symbolizes trust, protection, and refined love." Genos stops, tucking his fingers between the pages and half closing the book on his lap. "Why do so many flowers all mean love?"

"Because…" Saitama rolled over to sit up, unwilling to let himself be in danger of dozing off again. "You give flowers to the person you love."

"Ohhh. But which ones?" Genos asks, opening the book again and flipping through pages. "There are so many. Affectionate love, chaste love, faithful love, passionate love, platonic love, secretive love, selfless love, unreciprocated love…. I don't even know what any of these mean. Not really, anyway."

"They're all just different types of love. You'll know it when you feel it," Saitama advises. "And it doesn't matter what other people say flowers are supposed to mean, it matters more if you like them or not. If you like them, then they mean whatever they make you feel."

"But what does love feel like?" Genos wonders. "How will I know if I'm feeling that?"

"Don't ask me," Saitama says, getting to his feet. "I've never felt it."

Genos seems discouraged, his brow creased in thought, but it smoothes out when Saitama pats him on the head.

"Don't stay up all night worrying about flowers."

"I won't," Genos promises.

He doesn't.

But when he falls asleep later, he dreams of Saitama touching him, and his skin turning black and curling up like burning leaves.

 

///

 

The next morning when Saitama wakes up and comes downstairs, he hears the shower running.

The bathroom door is wide open, and when Saitama goes to close it for the sake of Genos' privacy, he catches sight of him instead -- fully clothed, slumped in the bottom of the tub under the cold spray of the water.

Saitama edges closer, Genos' weary eyes following him.

"Hey," he says softly. "You okay, buddy?"

Genos nods, but Saitama isn't so inclined to believe him.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Genos shakes his head 'no' and then halfheartedly bonks it against the shower wall and just rests it there.

"Yeah," Saitama says. "I feel that. But I think you've had enough shower time." He reaches in to turn off the water and gets a towel out of the cupboard. "Ready to get out?"

Genos climbs out of the tub and stands still while Saitama starts rubbing his hair dry. Despite the low mood, Genos seems otherwise okay.

"You're freezing cold," Saitama fusses, draping the towel around Genos' shoulders. "I'll get you some dry clothes. What color do you want to wear today?"

It takes Genos a long second to think. "Yellow."

Of course. The color that, according to Genos, meant happiness, and would make him feel happier by association.

Saitama brings Genos the change of clothes and leaves him to get dressed. As expected, it takes a long time for Genos to come back out. In the meantime, Saitama has the coffee brewing and nearly has their breakfast finished. He looks Genos over, a smile tugging at his mouth for both the shirt that Genos had picked out, and the wet jeans in his arms.

"This is why you undress before getting in the tub," Saitama says, wagging his spatula at Genos. "Wet denim is never fun. Put those in the hamper and then come get some grub."

"Yes, Master."

Those words still put Saitama on edge, but this time Genos isn't doing the emotionless servant act. When he comes back, he sets two places at the table for them.

Genos' latest shirt is a faded yellow, with the words 'Sunny Side Up' across his chest. There's a tragic irony when Saitama serves Genos his eggs, because the joke is completely lost on him.

Saitama eats a light breakfast, and then gives the rabbits their feeding. Today he's a little better, and they're a little hungrier. They eat almost their entire portion, although the rest of the formula ends up spilling onto Saitama's jeans.

When he comes back, Genos is still picking halfheartedly at his food.

"Now that's just sad," Saitama says, sitting back down at his empty spot across from Genos. He plants his elbow on the table, his chin in hand. "I'm pretty sure those little critters ate more than you did."

Genos' lips pinch together at that, but he doesn't say anything.

"You don't like eggs?" Saitama guesses.

"They're good," Genos says, staring into the runny yolks on his plate. "It's just… I don't know. I had bad dreams last night."

"Yeah? What about?" Saitama asks.

"About hurting you. Again. Worse."

"You didn't even want to hurt me the first time," Saitama reminds him. "You never would have, if I hadn't grabbed you. But I stopped you from hurting Amai a heck of a lot worse."

"He said I should've died in the war. Or gotten shot for deserting," Genos says, rubbing the heel of his hand against his eyes.

"He doesn't know anything about you," Saitama reasons. "And I don't think they shoot cyborgs."

"He's not wrong, though," Genos says. "I was made for the war. Designation: soldier. Weapon. I was trained to march, follow orders, fight for my country. Die."

"Say that's right -- which, it isn't, because that fucker isn't right about you--" Saitama says, pausing to take a breath. "You already did all that. You died when your core combusted. Maybe it wasn't on the battlefield, but still. Kuseno gave you a new core. A new life. New designation."

Genos gives him a look as troubled as it is hopeful. "You think so? What is it?"

"I don't know. But we'll find out together," Saitama promises. "And as soon as you finish eating, we can go outside and you can try out your new colored pencils."

Genos' eyes go wide. It doesn't take long for the rest of the eggs to simply disappear, and then there's a mad scramble to put away the dishes and gather up his things.

Notebook, book, and pencils all plop down onto the grass with Genos as soon as he finds a good spot to draw.

It's funny how quickly 'make a list' turned into something else entirely, but Saitama doesn't want to point that out. He spends some time carefully harvesting some of the veggies from his garden, and then just sits down in the shade, watching Genos pour detail into the page with a single-minded focus.

When they hear tires on gravel, Genos looks a little bit horrified.

"It's Mumen," Saitama says, after a second, getting to his feet. "The mail."

"Can I show him my new drawings?" Genos asks, clutching his notebook.

"Yeah, of course."

Today, Mumen actually has the mail truck with him, still on route for morning delivery. He gives Saitama a sheepish smile, leaning out the window to hand him a single piece of junk mail.

"Seriously?"

"Nothing good to deliver today, sorry," Mumen says. "What'd you do to your hand?"

"I grabbed something that was a little too hot," Saitama says, which isn't exactly a lie. "Genos helped patch me up, though. It was a good hands-on learning experience for first aid."

"Geez, good thing you've got him to take care of you," Mumen says. "Look after Saitama, okay? He's prone to hurting himself," he laughs.

"You have no idea," Saitama adds, and then notices Genos looking between the two of them, uncertain. "Genos wanted to show you what he was working on."

"Oh, yeah! I'd love to see," Mumen says, turning off the engine and getting out of his truck. "What have you got for me today?"

"Saitama bought me colored pencils," Genos says, flipping through his notebook pages. The scribbled mess of color catches Saitama's eye and he winces a little. Genos had destroyed some of the sketches he'd made on that page by doing that, like a kid with their first coloring book and no concept of staying inside the lines. He'd just been so excited by all of the colors at his fingertips.

When he turns the page, however, Saitama forgets to breathe for a second. It's a painstakingly detailed sketch of a clover flower, one which Genos must have found on the lawn. It was something he would have overlooked entirely, but Genos' drawing was nearly photorealistic for all of the intensive work he'd put into it. It was only partially colored, with tiny pieces of greens, and blues, and yellows, all blended together in minute detail in the stem and leaves. Part of the flower itself was also colored, in creamy white and soft pinks and purples, creating a vivid depth of color that felt so out of place next to the rest of black and white sketch.

It was kinda like how Saitama felt, being next to Genos, realizing just how much he was capable of. How much potential was just waiting to be unlocked.

"It was pretty," Genos says. "But I don't know what it is."

"It's a clover," Mumen says, a little bit breathless with wonder. He laughs and smiles at Genos. "This is really good."

"But it's not done yet," Genos objects.

"Well, I want to see it again when it's finished," Mumen tells him. "Oh, and I brought something for you. Special delivery."

Mumen reaches back into his truck and picks up something from behind the seat. It's another book, large and glossy with more photos.

"I saw 'birds' on your list, I thought you might like other animals too," Mumen says, handing the book over to Genos. "Some of them you might see yourself one day, but a lot of them don't live around these parts."

"Do I… Do you want the other one back?" Genos asks.

"Oh, no!" Mumen lifts his hands assuringly. "Keep them for a while! When you're done with one, you can trade it back to me for something else, if you want. Kinda like a library."

"Thank you," Genos says, clutching the new book and his notebook together. He stares at Saitama.

"Yes, you can go. Read. Draw. Go nuts," Saitama shoos him, and he isn't sure whether it's cute or embarrassing that Genos literally runs away with the book, taking it into the backyard, to his drawing spot.

"He's creative," Mumen says, in an awed tone that sums up everything Saitama feels. "I can't believe somebody took a mind that beautiful and tried to mold it into a weapon. That would've been such a waste."

Saitama glances towards the backyard, the early warmth of the day already starting to prickle at his neck. "Did you wanna come in for a second for a drink? Genos made lemonade."

"Sure," Mumen says, his voice a bit lower than before. He follows Saitama into the kitchen and accepts a glass when it's handed to him.

"So… in six years you've never invited me inside your house," Mumen says. "What's up?"

"I can't just be friendly?" Saitama asks.

"I'm pretty sure you physically threatened me once," Mumen adds.

"Did I?"

Mumen takes a sip of the lemonade, and immediately puckers up. "Is this poisoned?"

"No, but, Genos might have exceeded the safe dosage of sour for human consumption," Saitama says, taking Mumen's glass from him. "He's not all cutesy flowers and sunshine, y'know. He's dangerous."

"With that shirt he was wearing, I would've argued against that statement, but god, you might be right," Mumen says, smacking his lips together to try to get saliva back into his mouth. "If he made that lemonade, he's deadly."

"The embodiment of devastation," Saitama agrees, adding cold water into the glass to dilute it - maybe even a little bit more than necessary. He gives the glass back to Mumen, who drinks about half of it all at once in relief.

"Maybe he won't be good with food," Mumen concedes thoughtfully, leaning against the kitchen counter. There's a long moment of silence between them. Saitama, not knowing where to start. Mumen, quietly evaluating Saitama's presence.

"What's on your mind?" Mumen asks.

It takes Saitama a few more seconds before the words come to him.

"Do you ever feel… guilty?"

"For what?"

"For avoiding the draft."

Mumen tenses slightly, standing up a little straighter. "I didn't avoid anything," he says, looking down. "My name got called like everyone else. I would've gone. If they'd let me. But I wasn't fit." He pauses, looking at Saitama. "Things work out the way they do for a reason, you know. I wouldn't have Fubuki. You wouldn't have Genos."

"I keep thinking maybe I shouldn't," Saitama says. "He's attached to me, and I… if anyone tried to hurt him, I don't know what I'd do. But there's gonna be so much I can't help him with. You said those cyborg right's people have experience like this-"

"No." Mumen sets down his glass abruptly. "You're not giving him to them."

"I didn't say I was. But I think maybe I should talk to them. You said they never had much luck with other cyborgs before, but Genos is-"

"No," Mumen says again. "Absolutely the fuck not. Don't even talk to anyone who says they're part of the CCRU. Keep Genos far away from them."

"I don't understand. You're the one who said that they rehabilitate cyborgs. I thought you were sort of part of that group," Saitama says, getting a little bit angry in his confusion.

"I said they tried. I also said they've never been successful. And I agree with most of what they believe in, sure. But that last part I don't agree with is a big fucking chasm of nope."

"Why? What's wrong with them?"

"If they can't rehabilitate a cyborg, then they decommission them," Mumen says. "And they can't. Ever. They've never managed to rehabilitate a cyborg. So then it becomes a question of how much space and tolerance they have to keep one around for the rest of its natural life. And that's rare. Cyborgs can theoretically live so much longer than humans can. Unless they're perfectly docile, their minds still can't handle it. So any cyborg that breaks down mentally, or doesn't have a friendly or useful imprint to begin with, or if they run out of space, or just stop caring to keep it around? They put them down. That's it. And I used to think… I… I don't know. I thought the same way, like maybe cyborgs really weren't capable of learning anything else. I thought they were at least more like animals than machines, and animals deserve humane treatment, right? But they kill animals the same way, and they call that 'humane'," Mumen says, shaking his head. "Then I met Genos and I just… I keep thinking how many others did they kill that might've been like him? They claim to care about cyborg lives but they don't even see them as human. They're just as bad as the people who make them in the first place."

"But… if someone from the CCRU got to see how Genos is… wouldn't they--?"

"Honestly?" Mumen asks, already grimacing. "CCRU members have been known to snatch cyborgs from their private owners and illegally decommission them. They got slapped with a fine for destruction of property, but rogue members keep doing it anyway. It doesn't matter how well you treat him. They really believe that the only free cyborg is a dead cyborg."

"What is decommissioning exactly?" Saitama asks. "Genos said that the other GENs got decommissioned, and they were scrapped for parts. You said the body is more valuable than the brain, and they just reuse it with a new one. But how can you just replace a brain?"

Mumen's mouth sets into a grim line. "Every model has a tiny access point at the base of the occipital bone. Have you heard of pithing?"

"No," Saitama says, already feeling wary of where this is going.

"It's a method of 'humane' slaughter," Mumen says, giving the hated word a little bit of emphasis. "A long needle is inserted through the hole at the base of the occipital bone, and it pierces the brain, either killing or paralyzing them."

"Either?" Saitama repeats.

"Well, it's hard to tell sometimes," Mumen says. "They have factories where the process happens so quickly, the cyborg might experience its body being ripped apart before it's actually dead. If it makes any difference, though, I'm sure they're dead once they flush out the cranial cavity."

Saitama has a brief mental image of Genos being torn apart, a needle jammed into his brain, and feels sick. "That's not any better."

"No, it's not," Mumen agrees. "So you know now. Why it's important to keep Genos safe."

"Yeah. Trust no one, right?" Saitama jokes, grim.

"Unfortunately, no," Mumen agrees. "Better safe than sorry. He's really remarkable. I'm glad that he has you, Saitama."

"I'm not doing anything special," Saitama says.

"Of course you are." Mumen's eyes fall on the jar of honey still sitting on the counter. "Did he like the honey?"

"Oh, yeah! Little brat wanted to eat it straight out of the jar," Saitama says. "I should probably hide it, but there's no point. He gets into everything. He's just so curious, y'know? He started asking me a billion questions and I don't think that's gonna stop anytime soon. Uh, all of that sounds really negative, but it's not. I was really afraid at first that it was going to be all 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir' forever. I'm glad he stopped pretending with me."

"You have no idea how incredible that all is," Mumen says. "You're exactly what he needs now."

"I dunno about that," Saitama says. "Genos wanted to know what honey is. I told him to ask you."

Saitama can actually hear Mumen suck in a breath and then hold it. He stares at Saitama, looking like he's living and dying inside simultaneously.

"Are you gonna make it?" Saitama chuckles.

"I… need to finish my route," Mumen groans, fists clenching. "Does he really wanna know? Bring him by sometime! I'll show him everything! He can watch me harvest some of the honey! Maybe he can even help! It'll be great!"

"He's never gonna eat honey again once you tell him it's bee vomit," Saitama says. But the truth is, he can already picture the two of them geeking out over bees, and it's kind of terrifying.

"Saitama, that's a gross oversimplification!" Mumen objects, walking with him to the front door, because he really does need to leave, but now Saitama's opened up the floodgates. "They collect the nectar into their honey stomach, which is different from their food stomach, and then the nectar is passed between workers-"

"It's vomit, Mumen. You collect insect vomit for a living, own your truth."

Mumen sighs. "Genos will understand."

"That's right, mold the young and impressionable mind to your bee cult agenda," Saitama says, following Mumen to his truck.

"Bees pollinate one third of the world's crops, you know," Mumen gripes. "Without them-"

"I know, I know, it's just easy to get you riled up," Saitama laughs. "Speaking of crops, can you do me a favor?"

"What's that?"

Saitama shows Mumen the crate of vegetables in the back of his truck. "I was gonna deliver those to Kuseno. They're a thank-you gift, for helping with Genos, but…" he wiggles his fingers on his bandaged hand a little bit. It still hurts.

"No problem," Mumen says, grabbing the crate. He brings it back to his mail truck and loads up.

"Are you sure? Only if it's on your way," Saitama says.

"Saitama, I'm literally delivering the mail," Mumen reminds him. "I do this for living, remember? When I'm not collecting bee vomit."

"Oh. Right," Saitama smiles sheepishly. "And don't tell Kuseno about my hand, okay? He'll give me heck for it."

"I deliver the mail, not the news," Mumen assures him, with a little salute.

Saitama watches him drive off, and goes out back to find Genos.

The cyborg is in a different spot, almost near the edge of the woods, kneeling in front of a smattering of wildflowers. His notebook is on the ground, the book of flowers open on his lap, and his pencils are scattered through the grass, a small mess of creative chaos.

When Saitama comes closer, Genos looks up, a little bit upset.

"Mumen already left?"

"Yeah, he had to get back to work," Saitama tells him.

"I wanted to ask him a question. I found a flower," Genos tells him. "It looks just like the ones Mumen had at his house, but it isn't in this book! I've looked through every page, and none of them match," he says, flipping through the pages again.

Saitama looks at the sketch Genos made, and then at the wildflowers in front of him. There are more clovers and little white buds mixed in, but the overwhelming majority of flowers in this area are yellow. He plucks one, twirling the little stem between his fingertips. "This one?"

"Yes," Genos says, staring at the bright, waxy petals.

"It's called a buttercup," Saitama tells him. "You won't find it in your book, because it's more like a weed than a real flower."

"What is a weed?"

"Weeds are things that grow where you don't want them to," Saitama says. "I have to pull weeds of the garden so they don't overrun the plants that I'm growing."

"You kill them?" Genos asks sadly. "But they're so pretty."

"I wouldn't kill these ones, no," Saitama says. "They can grow wherever they want to. We could pick some and put them in water, like Mumen did. But they have to stay on the counter, where the buns can't get at them. They'll nibble on anything just to try it, and buttercups are poisonous."

"They are?" Genos asks, surprised.

"Yep. These flowers are a lot like you, actually," Saitama says, handing the little flower to Genos, who hesitantly accepts it while avoiding touching Saitama's fingers.

"How am I like a flower?" Genos asks, doubtfully.

"Cute on the outside. But secretly dangerous," Saitama teases lightly.

Genos stares at the yellow flower, turning it between his fingertips the same way Saitama had.

"Do you really believe that I can change my designation?" Genos asks, looking up for Saitama's approval.

"I don't need to believe it. You already have, Genos."

Genos' mouth opens and then shuts, clearly trying to process Saitama's statement. He seems likely to try to argue, or question it, and Saitama doesn't want him to. He doesn't want Genos to try to ask again what his new designation is, because he doesn't really know how to explain that being human means not always feeling like you have a purpose in life.

Saitama plucks another flower and kneels down across from Genos instead.

"Do you like butter?"

Genos' face goes blank with confusion. "Do--? What is butter?"

"It's a game you play with these flowers," Saitama says. "You ask someone if they like butter and then the flowers give the answer. Well, let me just show you," he says, because Genos looks more lost than ever.

Saitama tips his chin up, and holds the flower underneath it.

He knows it worked when Genos' eyes light up. "You're yellow! You're happy," Genos says, and the smile that crosses Genos' face is so full of joy and relief, it makes Saitama feel a weird pang in his chest.

"...Yeah," Saitama agrees, letting the flower drop back into his lap. "I'm happy."

Genos lifts his buttercup to his chin, letting the bright color reflect across his skin.

"I'm happy too."

 




Rebloggable image here

There is a flower, a little flower,
  With silver crest and golden eye,
That welcomes every changing hour,
  And weathers every sky.
- Montgomery