The first time was accepted with a shrug. Saitama didn’t really know Genos, and assumed he just wasn’t used to fighting monsters like the ones in the city. It was a fluke, and he was, after all, still young. It wasn’t like he was going to get torn apart on a daily basis, right?
The second time it happened, Saitama still gave Genos the benefit of the doubt. The monster had been faster than they thought, although maybe, maybe Genos should have tried to dodge instead of fire. But he didn’t, and so off to Kuseno’s lab he went. Probably because the monster was just too fast. Probably.
The third time Saitama was a bit frustrated. The kid didn’t even seem to try defensive moves, he just, launched himself into the fight. Literally just blasted off and got his ass kicked. He apologized at the end, like he always did when Saitama had to help him stand or gather his parts or just flat out carry what was left of him. But it bothered Saitama that Genos was apologizing for failing to defeat the monster, rather than failing to keep himself unharmed. Still, he didn’t say anything. The kid was learning.
The fourth time didn’t end with an apology because Saitama spoke first.
“Seriously, its like you’re practicing to be a freakin magician or something! Oh, ha ha, let’s make my body disappear! Wow! Amazing! Where’d it go? Who knows!”
“Saitama-sensei, I am sorry-
“No, you’re not. If you were, you would take better care of yourself.”
The fifth time there was silence. Genos did not look at Saitama, Saitama looked disapprovingly at Genos. Saitama gathered up a torso with a head and half a leg, and silently collected what other parts he could. Genos bit his lip the whole time.
“I’m back, sensei.”
Genos expected Saitama to be watching TV or reading, maybe taking a bath. He was not expecting the man to be waiting for him with arms crossed, expression on the serious side. How long had he been standing by the door?
“Alright, listen up. I’m giving you homework.”
“Yup. Ready for the first part?”
Suddenly serious and extremely eager, Genos nodded quickly.
“Good. Starting today, you’ll be wearing shirts with a little pocket on the front. I have a few you can have for now, but if you need more you can probably just sew onto old ones.”
Saitama walked to his closet, grabbing a few already sorted shirts with little chest pockets on them. They were the kind pens were kept in, or maybe cards. When Saitama held out the shirts to Genos, the cyborg took them immediately, but questioningly.
“Is there something special about shirt pockets, sensei? Do you believe they were a part of the secret to your strength?”
“Nope. But they’ll be a part of yours. Go put one on and I’ll start dinner. The rest of the assignment can wait for now.”
Genos did as he was told, if only after removing a few sleeves.
“…Yes, and the location? Yes. Understood. I’m on my way.”
Genos ended the call and put away his cell phone (not in the shirt pocket, it seemed too insignificant an object to put in a somehow special place). He called out to Saitama that he was leaving for a mission, only to find the man in front of the door, hands on his hips.
“Going to go fight a monster?”
Genos did not understand why but for some reason he felt like a disobeying child sneaking out of his home.
“Yes, sensei. It’s in City H, threat level Tiger. Do you wish to take care of it?”
“Nope. It’s your mission. But, I have the second part of the assignment for you.”
So there was something else to the homework that involved combat training! Why else would Saitama give him the second part only right before he had to fight a threat? Genos felt his core buzz in excitement. This was the first time his sensei had given him such a particular and special task, and one specifically for Genos too.
And it was-!
“Sensei, that is a photograph of a dog.”
“No, its Pompom, and you’re going to keep her safe while you fight.”
Saitama then tucked the little photo into the pocket on Genos’ chest, where it fit snugly right in front of his core. Genos looked from the pocket to Saitama, trying to grasp the situation, and failing.
“I do not understand, Saitama-sensei.”
Saitama, for his part, was looking quite proud of himself. He pointed to the pocket as he spoke.
“From now on, whenever you fight monsters, you’re going to pretend you’re also saving something or someone. If you get hurt enough that the picture gets damaged, it means you’re too hurt to save them, and you fail. But! If you can defeat the monster and keep the picture safe, while also keeping yourself safe, you pass.”
Genos touched the little pocket, trying to imagine a real dog somehow on his chest. Did Saitama used to own this particular dog? Was it even a real one, or just an image found online? Was it’s real name Pompom?
“…I will do my best, sensei.”
In the end, Saitama went to go check on Genos. What he found was a far too pleased cyborg with no legs.
“Sensei! Pompom is unharmed!”
To prove it, Genos removed the little picture from his pocket, waving it like a trophy, while Saitama dragged a hand down his face, suddenly exhausted.
After the first trial, Saitama modified his assignment. Pompom was printed 4 more times, with one still in the shirt pocket, one in each side of the pants pockets, and one underneath on sale sweat bands on both of Genos’ wrists.
“Sensei, I do not think I could safely carry five dogs in battle.”
“Well you’re gonna try!”
“I am sorry sensei.”
“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Pompom’s sisters. They lost siblings today.”
“…Were they all named Pompom?”
“That doesn’t matter. Two good souls were lost today, Genos.”
To his credit, Genos did look ashamed. His arm had been torn at the elbow, and he had received a blow that had dented his chest and ripped his shirt, thus destroying two of the five photos.
Genos retreated to the doctor while Saitama looked up more photos to print.
This time, Genos received two photos of a manga character, cut from an old issue Saitama had.
“Ok, these guys both have families, and I’m pretty sure the one with the glasses is only like, 12 or something. Don’t kill them. And keep the remaining Pompoms safe!”
“I will not fail this time, sensei!”
After two weeks, 8 Pompoms, 5 manga characters, 4 cat photos, and 1 image of a cartoon businessman, Saitama was pleased to see that Genos was improving, but still loosing the occasional limb. Saitama had at one point received a call from Kuseno, who was concerned with Genos’ obsession over a photo of a small dog, but other than that, things were looking up. At the same time though, Saitama didn’t know what else he could use to motivate Genos. He didn’t want to print photos of real people and be creepy, or traumatize Genos if he failed and “killed” them, but Genos didn’t feel any connection to any of the dogs, cats, manga characters, or cartoon businessmen, and wasn’t fully putting their imagined safety first. The way Genos looked at it, if one manga character had to die so that the other photo things could live, it was justified, as was the loss of one leg. Saitama tried to convey that that was not the point, but that only ended in a very long tangent from Genos about the greater good and quite a few other things including the comparison of the little manga characters and an in-depth analysis of each of them and why some should be valued over the others.
Saitama looked over at Genos, who was still wearing the shirt from earlier that day, this time with a cat photo in the small pocket. The cyborg had a peaceful smile on his face as he did the dishes, and when he noticed Saitama looking at him, he turned immediately attentive.
“Do you need something, sensei? Would you like some tea?”
“Ah, no, sorry, just thinking…but thanks.”
Genos went back to doing the dishes, while Saitama just watched. He still didn’t get why Genos seemed to be willing to do so much for him.
To do so much for his sensei.
To do anything for his sensei.
Saitama had an idea.
As it had become customary, Genos waited before going out to receive a replacement photo from Saitama. He had become a little fonder of the Pompoms, but decided he disliked the cartoon businessmen. He found them rude looking.
“Ok, time to trade in all the old pictures. You get five new ones today.”
Curious, Genos removed the ones from all his pockets, and the two held to his arms in rubber slots. He had asked the doctor for them after an unfortunate realization that the sweatbands were not fireproof whatsoever. He handed the collection of photos to Saitama, who took them and handed Genos the new photos.
Genos felt his eyes widen at the new images presented to him, and looked back at Saitama, silently asking for an explanation.
“You’ve been doing really well, so I figured I’d give you a new challenge. You think you can do it?”
Genos immediately placed all the photos in their pockets, holding the one to his chest pocket just a second longer than necessary.
He almost whispered it, still spinning in a mix of sudden responsibility and appreciative gratitude. He gave the tiniest but genuine smile, and was off.
When the monster grabbed at his leg, Genos’ first thought was to let it, so that he would have a clean shot at its arm. But he thought about what was in his pocket, what he was protecting, and instead he dodged sideways and fired into the monster’s side.
“I’m home, sensei.”
Saitama only needed to look over his shoulder before turning back to the TV, a smile stretching across his face. He could hear Genos walking over, with both feet, and two arms swaying at his side. Genos always kept the photos he was given on the table when he was home, and as he removed them, Saitama noticed there were only four. A little peeved, he turned to comment, only to stop when he saw Genos hastily tucking one photo back into his chest pocket. They stared at each other for a moment, Genos a bit nervously, before Saitama chuckled.
“Well, if it works, keep it.”
Genos silently beamed, moving quickly to the kitchen to boil water for tea. His hand rested on the little pocket, right where his core was underneath. Saitama called over from across the room.
“Thanks for keeping me safe, Genos.”
Genos smiled even wider, core spinning just a little faster. Again his fingers touched the pocket, where the image of a silly bald man smiled at the camera.