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Reversal

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Saitama woke slowly, keeping his eyes closed while he tried to remember the weird dream he'd been having-- something about a strange device with a large glowing crystal at its core. Genos had been there too, telling him not to punch the device because it could be some sort of bomb, but Saitama had been annoyed with him because only a moment before he'd been carelessly incinerating walls to complete the mission faster... he was pretty sure they'd been trying to make it to a time sale, and Genos had taken it way too seriously, as usual...

There was some sort of alarm beeping in Saitama's ears; it sounded very close, like he was wearing headphones, and it was getting harder to ignore the longer he lay there. His cheek was pressed against something rough and gritty... had he rolled off the futon? They really needed to sweep, if the floor was this dirty...

He cracked his eyes open, and immediately felt like the floor had just dropped out from under him-- he wasn't in his room at all.

The worn flagstones beneath him were covered in bits of scorched rubble and everything had an odd yellowish tinge to it; the columns and vaulted ceiling looked like part of some decrepit old temple, definitely nowhere near his home in Z-city... and at the centre of the chamber a bald man in a yellow suit stared down at his red-gloved hands as though he didn't know what he was looking at.

Saitama suddenly remembered the very end of his dream, a yellow-tinted image of himself punching the crystal-thing, shattering it to thousands of tiny pieces-- but then, he supposed it wasn't a dream after all. He scowled, wondering who that guy was-- some asshole trying to steal his style again? This was even worse than that gang of bald criminals with the battle suits, since this person even had the nerve to copy his costume...

His body didn't seem to be particularly responsive (had he been drugged? was that why everything looked yellow, some sort of gas?) so he tried talking instead. 'Hey, what's your problem?' he croaked; his voice sounded wrong but at least it worked. The look-alike jumped as though he'd just received some sort of electric shock. 'What are you... a stalker or something?' A horrible thought struck him, and a comment about the knockoff hero costume died on his lips. '...Where's Genos?'

The guy turned to look at him, and for the second time in as many minutes Saitama felt like he'd been punched in the gut. This clearly wasn't just some random copycat; if Saitama hadn't been positive he didn't have siblings he might have thought he was looking at a long-lost identical twin... and to make it even more unnerving, the look-alike was now staring at him with red-rimmed eyes; it was bizarre to see his own face looking so completely lost.

'S... Saitama-sensei...?'

The voice was eerily like Saitama's as well, but only one person had ever called him 'sensei', and at that moment he finally realised that the odd flickering in his peripheral vision was lines of text, like he was looking through tiny computer screens. Slowly, he dragged his hand up in front of his face; the arm moved with the all-too-familiar clicking of metal plates shifting against each other, and he found himself staring at a hand that definitely didn't belong to him...

'Sensei, is that you?' the voice asked very quietly, and Saitama knew, even though it made absolutely no sense.

'Y-yeah,' he whispered. 'Genos, what... what's going on...?'

---

They'd been relaxing at home, chatting over a late breakfast when Genos received the call from the Hero Association. As annoying as it was to have his time with Saitama interrupted, the call sounded fairly urgent-- there had been strange reports from a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Z-city, rumours that something had taken up residence in an abandoned fortress in the mountains. The Association hoped that Genos could take care of the situation before it got worse.

Genos told Saitama the details; he wasn't sure this was important enough for his sensei to bother with, but Saitama had mentioned being bored with the lack of good fights lately, and it was nice to see him interested in something.

They were just approaching the old stone walls of the fortress when Saitama halted, mild distress flickering across his face.

Genos slowed down and glanced back. 'Sensei, are you feeling unwell?'

'Oh, no, not that...' He rummaged in the pockets of his hero suit, pulling out a folded flyer to show Genos. 'There's a big sale at that new supermarket and I completely forgot!'

Genos scanned the flyer, then looked sharply over the city, calculating distances. 'Sensei, if we take care of this quickly and use the most direct routes, we will definitely make it to the sale before it ends!'

Saitama perked up. 'Huh, you think so?'

'Of course, sensei,' said Genos. He raised his hands towards the barricaded entrance, sparks flickering around the glowing incinerators in the palms.

'Whoa, Genos, hold on--'

The blast struck the wall, engulfing the heavy gates in a ball of flames; heavy wooden planks reduced to ash and the thick iron supports turned red-hot and sagged into a molten mess across the threshold. When he lowered his hands a few seconds later, there was a large smoking gap in the old wall.

'...Genos, what the fuck!' Saitama exclaimed.

'Sensei, there is no one around to make wrongful assumptions based on our method of entrance, so you have nothing to worry about-- I will personally ensure that you receive proper credit for your contributions to the mission!'

Saitama stared after Genos as he turned on his heel and strode through the new hole. 'Oi, Genos, that's not...!' He hurried ahead to catch up to Genos. 'I mean, didn't you say people had gone missing around here? If you just knock down walls all over the place you could seriously hurt someone!'

Genos blinked, then smiled warmly. 'Ah, of course... as expected of sensei!' He turned back to the inner wall, placing a hand flat against it while his eyes flashed, running more scans. 'However, I can assure you that there are no life forms or power readings on this level of the fortress-- it seems our enemy has constructed its lair in the dungeons.'

'Well... you still shouldn't be so reckless,' said Saitama, warily eyeing Genos's hands.

'I am simply taking the fastest and most direct route available,' said Genos blandly. He pulled his hand back, palm lighting up again, but this time Saitama grabbed his wrist.

'Seriously, cut it out; you could collapse the whole building!'

'I have calculated the exact structural integrity of this fortress,' Genos explained. 'Demolition of this wall will not trigger a collapse.' He shrugged Saitama off his arm. 'As you can see, sensei, I am being very careful,' he added, then completely ruined his attempt at being reassuring by letting loose another blast, this time at nearly point-blank range.

Saitama skipped backwards, scowling at Genos. 'You've got a pretty warped definition of 'careful', dude... you almost burned my clothes again.' He lifted his cape to inspect the hem.

'Sensei, you look amazing and heroic regardless of what you're wearing, even if it's burned clothes, or nothing at all.'

Saitama stared at Genos. '...Well, I can't go to the supermarket naked.'

'Ah, of course.' Genos brought down another wall. 'I suppose the people of this city cannot appreciate the beauty of such a strong body.'

'Uh... no, that doesn't have anything to do with it,' Saitama muttered. 'People can't just walk around naked... I'd get arrested for being a pervert or something.' Genos's next blow elicited an ominous cracking from the ceiling; Saitama glanced up, concerned. 'Uhh, I really don't think this is a good idea. It wouldn't take that much longer to go around...'

Genos blasted a hole through the floor, opening a path into the lower levels. 'Well, we are almost there-- I detect a power source nearby, and a single life form in the tunnels beyond.'

Saitama sighed and let it go; no use making a big deal out of it now. 'Only one? Do you think it's an enemy, or one of the missing people?'

'It's hard to say...' Genos's frown deepened. 'It does not seem to be an ordinary human, though. I hope they will be strong so that you can have a satisfying fight, Saitama-sensei!'

Saitama smiled despite himself as they entered a broad chamber; the columns that supported the vaulted ceiling were etched with strange symbols, and at the very centre of the room stood the power source Genos had detected. The device looked like nothing he had ever seen before, with a large glowing crystal at its core.

'...Huh, that looks like some crazy magitech thing you'd see in an anime. What does it do?'

'I don't know, sensei.' Genos's eyes narrowed; now that he was scanning it at such close range he noticed something distinctly odd about the energy readings. 'It must have something to do with the attacks... apparently the victims who were safely recovered said something about a strange light.' Genos thought he heard something like a whispering in his ears, and he shook his head; the energy from the crystal seemed to be giving him some sort of weird feedback.

'Weird.' Saitama stepped closer to peer at it. 'So I guess we should destroy it...?'

'No, Sensei!' Genos grabbed Saitama's arm. 'I don't think we should do that; it could be dangerous.'

Saitama blinked, scowling at Genos. 'Hey, wait... dangerous? Just a minute ago you were all for knocking down half the building!'

'No, I was knocking down specific walls to quickly reach our destination, and I knew the exact result of each strike, while in the case of this strange device we do not know what its purpose is, and I cannot predict what might happen if it were to be destroyed. The two scenarios are completely different.'

'So what do we do, then? Are you saying we came all this way for--'

'Sensei!' Genos gasped, eyes focused over Saitama's shoulder, on the third man who had just entered the room. 'The enemy!' He tried to activate his incineration canons, and found with a stab of horror that he could barely move at all, and Saitama was starting to turn-- Genos lunged forward, crashing into Saitama and sending them both tumbling to the ground.

'Genos, what--'

'Don't look at him, sensei! He... he did something to--' Genos felt like something was digging through his mind and his whole body spasmed, a staticky yell tearing itself from his artificial vocal chords. Get out, bastard!

'Interesting,' the man whispered, his quiet voice somehow managing to fill the whole room. 'I've never had the chance to play with a full-body cyborg before... he's holding on remarkably well.'

Genos was dimly aware of Saitama carefully shifting him to the side, gloved fingers brushing his cheek. 'Just hold on, Genos...' He started to get up, but Genos managed to grab at his cape and he stopped.

'Sensei... the crystal...'

Genos watched Saitama get up and blur out of sight, too fast for his glitchy vision to process; everything suddenly went dark as his right fist smashed into something brittle that easily gave way under his knuckles--

He stumbled back, disoriented, pressing his hands over his face; his eyes were filled with dark spots and some distant memory resurfaced, telling him that this had happened back when he'd still had organic eyes and looked at something too bright, but his digital eyes automatically adjusted to different brightness levels and he didn't understand--

Everything felt wrong. Genos slowly lifted his head, squinting at his hands, not used to struggling to see in low light; for a brief instant his mind projected what he expected to see, but then his eyes caught up and he realised he was staring down at smooth red gloves instead of jointed rubber and metal.

Genos heard a faint wet coughing and lunged towards the man who now lay crumpled on the ground, bleeding from dozens of tiny shrapnel wounds; he no longer looked particularly intimidating as Genos grabbed his arm and hauled him back to his feet. The man yelled, and Genos realised too late that the arm had splintered like a toothpick under his fingers, but he was far too angry to care.

'What have you done to Saitama-sensei?' Genos yelled, his vision blurring. 'Bring him back!'

The man coughed again; it was almost a laugh. 'Fascinating...' Genos involuntarily squeezed his arm harder and he whimpered in pain. 'It's too late for me... but you might be able to reverse it...'

Genos shoved him against a column. 'Tell me how!'

A pained smile spread across the man's face. 'Find the second crystal... and you can't... tell anyone, of course... if anyone finds out, you'll never...'

'Crystal? What crystal?' Genos demanded. 'Where is it?'

But the man's eyes slid out of focus and he went limp in Genos's hands, and the questions hung unanswered in the air.

---

'Seriously, that's all he said? Find some crystal thing, and make sure no one else finds out?'

'Yes, sensei,' Genos mumbled. 'That's it...' His gaze dropped, and he tried to find something to look besides his own body-- as much as he tried to tell himself that it was now occupied by Saitama, he couldn't stop the waves of dissociative panic every time he saw it. He found himself staring at the villain's unmoving body and quickly looked away, staring at a little fragment of shattered crystal...

'Well, uh... I guess we'll have to make the best of it in the meantime, right Genos?'

Genos jumped. 'Oh... yes, I suppose.'

Saitama rubbed a hand over his face, twitching at the alien sensations of rubber and metal pressing against his skin. 'Hey, Genos... are you okay?' he asked quietly. 'You're pretty out of it.'

'Y-yes!' Genos twitched again, his head snapping up. 'I am fine, sensei!'

'Well, if you're sure...' He slowly got up; adjusting to Genos's body was going to take time. 'Let's go home, okay?'

Genos blinked. 'Home, sensei? But shouldn't we start searching...?'

'No,' said Saitama firmly. Genos's gaze snapped up at him, and Saitama waved a hand. 'Look-- we're both exhausted and we've had a big shock. We're not going to accomplish much like this, so we should go home and rest, and come back once we've calmed down.'

Genos shook his head. 'Sensei, the Hero Association will want to know whether we sucessfully neutralised the threat, and when we say that we have, they will send a team to clean up. They will likely disturb vital clues we need to solve this.'

'Hm... yeah, that could be a problem.' Saitama paused, tapping a finger against his metal forearm. 'So what if we say we haven't completed it yet? Like it turned into a delicate situation and we need time to work it out... think they'd buy that? I mean, neither of us is really the cautious type, but...'

'Ah! Yes, that could work. My phone should be in my pocket, and the Association line is saved in the contacts.'

Saitama found the phone and flicked it open. 'And I guess--' He blinked down at the wallpaper, which was a portrait of him in his hero suit with the light reflecting off his head. 'Hey, you said you were going to delete this!'

Genos glanced at the phone. 'I think you look very handsome in that photo, sensei.'

'...Okay, that's a lot weirder now that you have my face.'

Genos touched his cheek absently, then dropped his hand back to his side. '...Sensei, are you going to make the call?'

'Right.' Saitama found the number, a little surprised at how short Genos's contact list was. 'I guess I'll pretend I'm you-- they'd probably get suspicious if your voice was wrong.'

Genos nodded. 'Introduce yourself as me, mention that you're reporting the status of the investigation, then explain when prompted. It should be very straightforward.'

Saitama took a deep breath, then pressed the call button, holding the phone to his ear. It only rang once before an Association representative answered. 'Ah, this is Genos-- Demon Cyborg. I got a call this morning and I need to make a report.' He went quiet for a moment while the call transferred. 'Yes, it's about the site in Z-city. It's going to take me a few days to clean up some loose ends, and I need you to leave it alone until then-- no, don't send anyone else; the investigation is still ongoing. Yeah, thanks.'

Saitama hung up, blinking at the phone. 'Ahh, shit, I shouldn't have said thanks, cause you wouldn't-- well, seems like they swallowed it anyway, so I guess that's it.' He hesitated, not sure what to do with the phone now that he was done. 'Uhh, do you want this back?'

'You should hold onto it, sensei. I would not be able to answer for myself anyway.'

'Okay.' Saitama tucked the phone back into its pocket and offered Genos a hand up. Genos still looked troubled, so he forced a smile, idly wondering what the expression would look like on Genos's face as he felt the artificial skin stretch. '...Hey, think of it like a lesson, okay? Maybe spending a few days like this will help you figure out the secret to my strength.'

Genos felt a little flicker of hope at that, and tried to smile as well. 'You're right, sensei. I will study carefully.'

'Yeah, that's more like it!' Saitama led the way back towards the exit, and they had just climbed back up to ground level when a stricken look passed over his face. 'Oh--!'

'What is it, sensei?'

'We definitely missed that sale,' said Saitama mournfully.

Genos snorted softly and turned his head away, but this time the hint of a smile was genuine.

Chapter Text

It took much longer than usual to get home since they weren't used to running in their new bodies, and Genos had insisted that taking the most direct route across the city wasn't a viable option. Saitama was inclined to argue at first, as he just wanted to get home as fast as possible, but he let the subject drop when Genos mentioned his fanclub and popularity rankings-- the chances of them being recognised if they took major city streets were very high, and the last thing they needed right now was some obsessed fan noticing that 'Genos' wasn't acting quite like himself.

The roundabout route and their cautious pace ensured that no one saw them, but also meant that night had fallen by the time they reached the abandoned neighbourhood where they lived. Genos kept stumbling over cracks in the uneven pavement, swearing under his breath every time he caught himself, and Saitama discovered that Genos's artificial eyes came equipped with excellent night vision-- Saitama wasn't exactly at his most graceful either, but he figured not being able to see as well as he was used to definitely wasn't making anything easier for Genos.

Saitama checked Genos's pockets for keys as they neared their building, and was a little surprised to discover that Genos had actually kept the slightly scorched giraffe keychain all this time, in addition to the Saitama one with the misprinted face. Saitama knew that Genos had been sent a handful of different Demon Cyborg prototypes, all of which were much nicer than either of these (the giraffe had been a free bonus he'd got during a sale) but for some reason Genos had chosen to keep using these two instead... but then Saitama figured Genos probably just didn't like using his own merch and dismissed the observation.

The key clicked in the lock and Saitama opened the door, sitting down in the entry to take off his shoes. He hadn't given it much thought while walking around, but now that he was paying attention he noticed that Genos's feet were actually quite sensitive-- not as much as his hands or face, but significantly more than the metal plating on his arms. Saitama spent a minute curiously poking the areas of black polymer sheathing and the rubber pads on the bottoms of his feet, only stopping when he noticed that Genos was still standing by the door, staring at nothing in particular.

Saitama got up. 'Hey Genos, why don't you take off your shoes? And it looks like my gloves got dirty; I should wash them out, and then we can figure out something for dinner... okay?'

Genos blinked slowly at Saitama, and he awkwardly patted Genos on the shoulder. He started to turn away, but Genos reached out and grabbed Saitama's hand. 'Sensei, how can you act so calm?' His voice came out harsher than he intended, startling both of them. 'We don't even know if it's possible to reverse this!' Genos heard a weird popping sound but ignored it. 'Stop acting like--'

'Aaagh!' Saitama yelled suddenly, and Genos stared down with a stab of horror-- without even realising it, he'd crushed the metal hand into a useless, twisted lump.

Genos stepped back, the mangled hand snapping off in his fingers. 'S-sensei...'

'Oh... that hurt,' said Saitama, though he sounded more surprised than in pain. He snuck a glance down at his severed wrist; he'd thought that since he was accustomed to seeing Genos's body broken it would be fine, but it was a lot more unnerving now that he was occupying that body. His brain kept telling him that the missing hand was still there, and when he looked at it stabbing pain shot up his arm (despite the message on his eye-screens that the pain sensors had recalibrated). Saitama winced and stumbled back against the wall, forcing himself to take a deep breath.

Genos was pressed against the opposite wall, and as Saitama watched, tears spilled from his eyes. 'Sensei, I'm s-sorry, I...'

'What-- hey, Genos, don't cry!' Saitama quickly stepped towards Genos, but stopped just before touching him. 'Seriously, it's really weird...'

'I'm sorry,' Genos whispered again, rubbing a forearm across his face. 'It's just...'

'A lot to take in?' Saitama suggested. 'Cause... yeah. It's pretty rough, but we have to stay positive and focus on what we can do. Right?'

'Yes... of course, sensei.'

'Excellent!' Saitama put his hand on Genos's shoulder, grateful that Genos seemed to be calming down because he was terrible at this sort of thing. 'So, we should both get cleaned up, and... uh.' Saitama tried to avoid looking at his missing hand as he raised the damaged arm. 'Is there anything we can do about this? Going to your doctor probably isn't an option...'

Genos bit his lip and nodded. 'I have some spare arms we can use, but we will have to be very careful in the future... Doctor Kuseno would immediately know you're not me, so you are correct that we must avoid damaging my body.'

'Shouldn't be too hard, as long as we don't get into any fights,' said Saitama. He watched as Genos finally sat down to tug off his boots. 'We probably won't have time to get used to fighting like this anyway.'

Genos paused with one boot in his hands, looking up at Saitama. '...I'm sorry, sensei.'

'Dude, you've gotta stop apologising so much; it's not like any of this is your fa--'

'No, sensei-- I mean, with my body you could finally enjoy challenging fights, only we can't risk putting ourselves in any scenario where that body might be damaged...'

'Oh... yeah, I guess so.' Saitama ran a hand over his head, a little surprised when his fingers passed through the hair; it felt strange after being bald for two years, and he wasn't entirely sure whether he liked the sensation. 'I didn't really think about that at all.'

Genos blinked up at him, carefully setting the boots aside. 'No?'

Saitama shrugged. 'I mean, we've got so much else to worry about... and I'd feel bad if I wrecked your body, even if we could get it fixed.'

'Sensei... if repairs were not an issue, any damage to that body would be worth seeing you satisfied.'

Saitama stared at Genos for a long moment, unable to process how Genos could so calmly give him permission to wreck his body. '...I'm going to try and forget you said that. Come on, let's get cleaned up so we can eat; I'm starving.' And he actually was, though he wasn't entirely sure how that worked... did Genos even have an actual stomach?

Genos let Saitama nudge him towards the bathroom, but he wasn't quite ready to let the subject drop. 'Forgive me, sensei. It was insensitive for me to bring up that subject when the parameters of the curse would make fighting too risky.'

Saitama turned to face him again. 'What the fuck, Genos-- that's not the problem here!'

'...Then why do you wish to forget what I said?'

'Because it's fucked up.' Saitama jabbed a finger at Genos's chest. 'It's like you don't value yourself at all-- like you think your own body's worth nothing.'

'That's not true,' said Genos blandly. 'I am aware that some of my parts are quite expensive to produce.'

Saitama suppressed a groan. 'I'm not talking about money, Genos. What I meant was... you act like your body is just some... thing.'

Genos blinked. 'I am a cyborg, sensei. If my body sustains damage, it can simply be replaced.'

'Not all of it,' said Saitama, his voice quiet but intense as he tapped his forehead. It was strange to think that the brain within that skull was the only organic part of him-- all that Genos really was. For a moment Saitama felt strangely unreal, and he wondered if Genos ever felt this way... which made him even more determined to convince Genos it didn't matter. 'Do you really think your body matters that much-- that it defines who you are?'

Genos's head jerked up, something strange in his gaze as he glared at Saitama. 'Of course not!' he snapped, leaving Saitama a little taken aback by the intensity of his reaction. Genos's hands curled into fists, his scowl deepening. 'Sensei... I do not think you understand what you're talking about.'

It was rare for Genos to insist that Saitama didn't know something-- he would have plenty of time to think about that later. 'Well... you still feel things, right?' Saitama shrugged, not meeting his eyes. 'You're lucky, Genos,' he added softly.

Genos looked like he'd been smacked across the face. 'S-sensei...' he whispered, his breath catching; once again he appeared to be on the verge of tears.

'Look, Genos...' Saitama sighed, feeling the beginnings of a headache building behind his eyes. 'I never want to hear you talking like you're worthless again. Okay?'

They stared at each other for a moment, then Genos very slowly nodded. 'I will try to refrain from such comments in the future.'

The word choice wasn't lost on Saitama-- a promise not to talk about it wasn't the same as making an effort to think differently-- but he supposed that was the best he was going to get right now. 'Good.' Saitama forced a smile and tried to squeeze Genos's shoulder, but accidentally used the handless arm-- the severed wrist bumped Genos's shoulder instead, sending a fresh wave of pain up Saitama's arm. 'Aaagh, shit!'

Genos snapped back to attention, closely examining his face. 'Sensei, you should let me fix this at once! Is it still hurting you?'

'Y-yeah, a bit... it's weird, though; I kind of forgot about it and it stopped hurting until I noticed it again...'

'Ah, yes.' Genos finally stripped off the gloves, leaving them in the sink while he washed his hands. 'I suspect you are experiencing phantom pain, sensei-- my pain receptors are designed to remain at tolerable levels, but there is also a psychological effect that has little to do with the physical nerves.'

'Huh...' The sharp pain shooting up his arm dulled to a staticky ache around his wrist. 'Is it like this for you, every time you get hurt?'

'No-- not always.' Genos reached to turn off the water, accidentally bending the tap out of shape. 'Oh...'

'Don't worry about it,' said Saitama quickly, nudging Genos away from the sink and turning it on and off again. 'See? It still works.'

Genos closed his eyes and took a deep breath. '...Okay.' He turned towards the door. 'I will get the arms.'

Saitama slid to the floor, holding the damaged arm out of his line of sight as Genos left the room. 'Sounds good...' He closed his eyes for a few seconds, hoping that would help to alleviate his headache; the screens went dark but the little programs running in his peripheral vision didn't go away, and they were even more grating without anything else to focus on. How the hell did Genos sleep? Was there some trick to turning the computers off...?

Genos's footsteps were softer without the little metallic clicks Saitama was used to-- he didn't realise Genos was returning until he was nearly at the door. Saitama opened his eyes and made an effort to sit straighter as Genos entered, bearing the set of arms he usually wore around the house. 'Is there anything I should do?'

'Try to hold still, sensei.' Genos knelt in front of Saitama, looking over his chest and shoulders before shifting to sit to his side. 'This may take longer than usual, as I am unaccustomed to such incredible strength, and I must be careful not to damage anything.'

'Okay.' Saitama looked down as Genos reached across his chest, very carefully inserting his fingers under the shoulder plate-- Saitama had watched Genos switch his arms before, but he'd never really paid attention and hadn't realised that it would involve Genos sticking his fingers right into the inner workings of the shoulder. It was extremely strange and more than a little uncomfortable to feel fingers worming around between the cables and wires, and he had to struggle not to squirm.

An odd prickly sensation flowed down the arm to the broken wrist, but before Saitama could ask what was causing it, the shoulder dislocated completely and the arm thunked to the ground. Saitama blinked down at the severed shoulder while Genos calmly reached for the replacement arm-- looking proved to be a mistake, though, as the wave of white-hot pain hit him a split second later; whatever he'd been about to say was lost to a glitchy yell.

Genos stared at him blankly. 'Sensei, removing my arms does not cause pain.'

'Oh, you think?' Saitama gasped, slumping against the wall while aftershocks shot down his side.

Genos pushed him back into something resembling a normal sitting position. 'Whatever you feel now is not real-- your mind is wrongly interpreting this as something that ought to be painful.'

'Thanks, that makes me feel so much better,' said Saitama, but Genos either missed the sarcasm or chose to ignore it.

'I thought you wished to feel things again, sensei.'

Saitama chanced another look; Genos was in the process of reconnecting cables, and while seeing the arm hanging limp and half-connected was still disconcerting, it wasn't as bad as before. 'I want to feel good things, not like my arm just got hacked off.'

Genos blinked up at him. 'Good things, sensei?'

Saitama steamed a little, glad that he couldn't blush. 'You know... just being happy, and getting excited about things.'

'Oh! Like when you find a really good deal at a sale?'

'...Yes,' said Saitama, even though that wasn't really what he'd meant at all. 'Like that, just... about everything.'

'Hmm...' Genos pushed carefully on the shoulder until it popped into place, earning a wince from Saitama. 'How does that feel, sensei? Is it functioning properly?'

Saitama rolled the wrist around, wiggling the fingers, then flicked Genos on the forehead. 'Yeah, it's great!' He started to get up. 'Okay, time to eat.'

Genos grabbed his wrist. 'Sensei, we still have to do the other arm.'

'No way,' said Saitama. 'The other one still works, right?'

Genos glared at him. 'Both arms must be done at once; they are meant to be used as a set--'

'Well, I don't care!' Saitama tried to shake Genos off, but he held on, the metal creaking a little as he exerted pressure. Saitama looked down at him, eyes wide. '...You wouldn't.'

'Sit down, sensei,' said Genos, his voice calm and his eyes steely.

Saitama sighed and sat back down with a thump. 'Fine. Let's get this over with.'

'It may help if you close your eyes, sensei,' said Genos as he settled back into seiza beside Saitama-- he started to stick his fingers under the shoulder plate, and Saitama watched for only a few seconds before he decided Genos probably had a point. He leaned back against the wall and tried to relax, closing his eyes.

He noticed when Genos disconnected the wires that transmitted sensory input; the nerves and sensors went dead all down his arm, leaving only a slight tingling sensation that was unpleasant but not quite painful. The joint popped out a moment later and he felt the sudden absence of weight on his shoulder, and had to resist the strong urge to look...

The replacement arm connected with a jittery sort of pain like the pins-and-needles sensation that came after sitting in one position too long. Saitama fidgeted, but Genos had been right; while this was still painful it was much better than the last time. The joint clicked into place with a final sickening pop and Genos's hands withdrew as Saitama took a deep, shaky breath.

'Sensei... are you all right?'

Saitama opened his eyes, then lifted both hands and pressed them against his face. '...Yeah.'

Genos gathered up the arms. 'I will start dinner, sensei. You should rest for a few minutes.' He started to stand, but accidentally stepped on the hem of Saitama's cape-- he stumbled and fell over with a startled yelp, landing halfway through the door.

'Oi-- Genos, are you okay?' Saitama started to get up, worried despite knowing that his body was indestructable, but Genos waved him away-- and then they both noticed the crumpled doorknob in his hand.

Genos pushed himself up, delicately setting the doorknob aside and eyeing the rough hole in the bathroom door forlornly. 'I'm sorry, sensei-- I was trying not to rip your hero costume, but I must have grabbed this as I fell... I will fix it immediately after we eat.'

'Dude, don't bother.' Saitama picked up the arms Genos had dropped again. 'This can wait til tomorrow, okay?' He handed the arms to Genos. 'And, uh, maybe it'd be a good idea to change before we eat-- you know, get into some more comfortable clothes.'

'Sensei, you are welcome to change, but I do not think it will make a significant difference in your level of comfort.'

Saitama rolled his eyes. 'I was mostly talking about you.'

'Oh!' Genos looked down at the yellow hero suit. 'You don't mind?'

'No, go ahead-- you know where all my stuff is; pick whatever you want.' Genos still hesitated at the door, and Saitama waved him out. 'Seriously. I'll just wash my gloves and then we can cook-- your hands will be okay if I get them wet, right? I mean, you were fine in the bath, but I think those were different arms...'

Genos nodded. 'Yes, sensei, it will be fine; the heat cannons seal when they are not in use.' Genos paused in the door while Saitama got up; he should be the one to cook so that sensei could rest, but he was too emotionally drained to protest and the fabric rubbing against his arms every time he moved them was extremely distracting. He didn't say anything else, just shifted his grip on the arms and retreated in silence.

He tucked the arms away at the back of the closet with a handful of other parts that were waiting to be returned to Kuseno-- Genos caught himself staring at Saitama's face in the mirror a moment later, unsure how much time had passed, and shook himself to clear his head. He carefully avoided looking in the mirror again while he stripped off the hero suit as quickly as possible, tugging on the first pair of pants he found. He'd grabbed a shirt, too, but he stopped when he noticed the sleeves, then carefully tugged it off again, staring at it...

Saitama joined him in the kitchen a few minutes later, pausing to look at his bare arms. 'That's one of your shirts, isn't it?' It hung a little looser than it did on Genos's body, especially around the shoulders, but there was no mistaking the distinctive ripped sleeves, and Saitama was pretty sure Genos wouldn't rip anything that didn't belong to him.

'...Yes.' Genos glanced up at him. 'Is that all right, sensei?'

'Yeah... heh, it kinda makes my shoulders look bigger, doesn't it?' He reached around Genos to turn the kettle on. 'Aren't you cold, though?'

'I'm fine, sensei.' Genos started chopping an onion. 'As you have probably noticed, my arms are less sensitive. Sleeves are... distracting like this.' He rubbed the back of his forearm over his eyes.

'What-- are you crying again? Seriously, it's fine if you want to wear--'

'No, sensei.' Genos squeezed his eyes closed. 'It's the onion...'

Saitama glanced down at the cutting board. 'Oh. Of course.' He grabbed the knife out of Genos's hands, nudging him to the side. 'Here, I'll do this. What are we making?'

'I was just going to stir-fry some of the leftover produce,' said Genos, rubbing his eyes again.

'Why don't you go set up the rice cooker while I do this?'

Genos nodded. 'Yes, sensei!'

They fell quiet; for a few minutes Genos moved in and out of the kitchen, washing the rice and filling the cooker with the correct amount of water, but then he went into the other room and didn't return. Saitama was a little surprised that Genos hadn't come back to elbow him out of the way, but he shrugged and kept chopping carrots.

When Saitama added the last of the ingredients and glanced up several minutes later, he noticed that Genos was standing near the table, staring at a spot on the wall. Saitama wondered if he'd been standing like that all this time. 'Hey, Genos...'

Genos started, looking over at Saitama through the kitchen window with a stunned look across the blank features that weren't actually his; he was staring at himself standing in front of the stove with chopsticks in one hand, familiar gold-and-black eyes watching him with a look of concern that looked slightly off somehow, and--

'Genos!'

He jumped, carefully looked away. 'Sensei, do you require my assistance?' His arms were smooth, covered with skin, real skin that not even the most perfect synthetics could replicate, but it felt entirely alien to him, like being trapped in a dream--

'You were zoning out, dude. Are you okay?'

'Yes, sensei, of course.' He forced himself to move, checking on the rice cooker. 'The rice is almost done.'

'Good.' Saitama paused. 'Come in here a moment.'

Genos entered the kitchen, but before he could ask what Saitama needed a cup of tea was shoved into his hands-- some part of him registered that the cup would probably be uncomfortably hot for a normal human, but it was oddly comforting. 'Oh. Thank you, sensei.'

'Drink up, it'll make you feel better.'

Genos sipped the tea-- the taste was a little stronger and slightly different from what he was used to. 'Is this your usual brand of tea, sensei?'

'Ah-- yeah.' Saitama picked up a second cup, sniffing the steam. 'Is something wrong with it?'

'It tastes different.'

'Hmm.' Saitama tried a sip as well. 'Yeah, it's a little weak, isn't it?'

'The flavour is stronger for me. I think our ability to taste must not be quite the same.'

'Ahh... though I guess your doctor is pretty amazing, to make sure you taste at all-- or is that actually some common cyborg thing?'

Genos drank more of his tea. 'Most cyborgs do not have such extensive modifications, so I do not think it is usually a concern. I believe Doctor Kuseno had to develop most if not all of the technology himself.'

'And he also made it so you can get hungry?'

'Yes-- my body processes food differently from an organic one, but Doctor Kuseno thought this was an important part of me being able to live as a human. It is also beneficial for me to feel hunger so that I do not forget to eat. My body can obtain energy from other sources, but my brain still requires the same nutrients as an ordinary human would.'

'Ah, cool...' Saitama tasted the stir-fry, licking the chopsticks clean and holding them up to the light. 'And you've even got real spit; he really went all-out.'

'Not real, sensei-- it is entirely synthetic. Without artificial saliva as a lubricant, it would not be possible to speak or eat normally.'

Saitama glanced at him. 'So what is this stuff?'

'It is a tasteless and odourless water-based lubricant. My body produces it automatically, and Doctor Kuseno has assured me that it is safe for ordinary humans to consume, though I do not understand under what circumstances that would become an issue.' Oddly, that statement made Saitama steam, and Genos frowned. 'Sensei, is something wrong?'

'Uhh, nothing.' He switced the burner off. 'This is done, and the rice is probably ready too.' He passed the pan to Genos, getting another set of chopsticks and two bowls from the cupboard. 'Come on, Genos, let's eat!'

Genos continued frowning but let the subject drop as he accompanied Saitama into the main room. They both sat down at the table, Genos taking his usual seiza position while Saitama opted for something more natural, though this made him wonder whether Genos's body could even experience physical discomfort at all. He filed it away to ask about later, spooning rice into the bowls.

Saitama finished serving the food and passed one of the bowls to Genos, then tried a bite of the stir-fry. It was a little blander than he'd expected, but the sensors in his mouth seemed to be increasing in sensitivity as he chewed-- he found that he was acutely aware of all of the different textures, and he thought that maybe Genos's taste sensors weren't quite perfect so the doctor had compensated by increasing the sensitivity of the touch-sensors. It was weird, but not unpleasant.

He glanced up and noticed that Genos was making a strange face, like he'd just stepped in something gross and slimy. 'Uh, do you not like it?' Saitama asked, and Genos twitched and looked up. 'I won't be offended if you want something else.'

'N-no, that's not it.' Genos looked down at his chopsticks distastefully. 'The flavour is fine.'

'Okay... then why the weird face?'

'Oh...' Genos fidgeted. 'It feels... uncomfortable.'

'Huh. Like, you're sick?' Saitama sniffed at his bowl. 'It doesn't smell like it's gone off, but...'

'No, I mean... I can feel it.' Genos grimaced and traced a line from the base of his neck down the front of his chest, stopping just below his sternum. 'Like this.'

Saitama blinked, then had to choke back the urge to laugh. 'Oh man, I didn't even think of that...'

Genos shot him a miffed glare that practically screamed it's not funny, sensei. 'My sensors end at the back of my throat. This sort of thing is... I have not experienced it in over four years, and do not recall noticing it before. I know I must take care of your body, sensei, but--'

'Nah, don't worry about it; just take it easy for now. It's not gonna kill me if you need to eat less than normal for a couple days until we get changed back.'

Genos gazed at him, eyes filled with something between concern and gratitude. 'Sensei...'

'Was the tea okay?' Saitama paused, squinting at the cup. 'Like, does drinking things bother you?'

'No... The tea was fine.'

'Okay-- we'll make soup tomorrow; that should be easier for you to eat. For right now, just finish your tea.'

Genos stared down at his food. 'Thank you, sensei,' he mumbled. 'I will try to eat more.'

'Well, don't force yourself, okay? It won't do you any good if you just make yourself sick.' Saitama took another sip of his own tea, watching Genos do the same. They would get through this, even if it was hard-- and suddenly he realised that this was more than he'd felt in a while, and his emotions seemed to be revolving around a strong desire to help Genos.

Saitama supposed that was partly why he hadn't mentioned his headache to Genos-- he'd been hoping the food and tea would help, but he wasn't noticing any difference yet. He couldn't complain, though; Genos was having a hard enough time as it was without the additional guilt of knowing that Saitama was uncomfortable too... and anyway, he was the older one and Genos's 'teacher', so he figured he should be setting an example or whatever.

If he panicked or lost it, who would  save them?

'Sensei,' Genos mumbled. 'We have a problem.'

'Yeah... I know.' Saitama glanced up at Genos, noticing that he was bright red and looked very uncomfortable. 'Ah, unless there's something else, in which case you'd better spit it out.'

Genos sat even straighter and lifted his head, staring Saitama straight in the eyes. 'I have to pee!' he declared.

Saitama had just taken a long drink of tea, which he spat straight into Genos's face. He was briefly grateful for the mechanical body he now occupied, as it didn't seem to be capable of choking. 'Just go, then-- you don't need to tell me about it!' What are you, five?

'But, sensei...' Genos's hands curled into fists on his knees. 'I cannot touch your body like that without permission!'

Several fans engaged somewhere in Saitama's chest to vent excess heat as the Core's vibrations intensified. He pressed a hand against his face. 'Well, I already said you could go, didn't I?'

'But this is sensei's junk! I can't--'

'I'm not gonna hold it for you!' Saitama interrupted loudly, with growing alarm. Genos's eye computers flashed some sort of warning (probably in response to his agitated state) but he ignored it. 'I swear, Genos, if you let my body pee itself--' He took a deep breath. '...Just. Go. You'll be fine.' He reached across the table and gave Genos a little shove in the direction of the door, forcing out a shaky laugh that sounded bizarre in Genos's voice. 'I mean, it's not like you've never peed before, right?'

Genos opened his mouth as though he wanted to say something, then seemed to change his mind. '...Yes. Of course, sensei.' Genos bowed his head, then got up and stiffly headed for the toilet.

Saitama sighed and set his cup down, slouching against the wall. He knew he shouldn't be surprised that Genos would ask about something like this, but he hadn't been prepared, and now he couldn't stop thinking about...

No, he was not thinking about Genos touching his dick, just like he was definitely not thinking about situations that would involve Genos's spit in his mouth.

Saitama got up and headed to the kitchen to splash some cold water on his face. The heat he was generating wasn't uncomfortable, exactly, but it definitely wasn't helping to alleviate his headache.

The toilet flushed a moment later, which might have been a good sign if it hadn't been immediately followed by a thumping noise and a muffled swear. Saitama was already in the hall when Genos stepped out of the bathroom, holding a twisted piece of metal in one hand at about elbow height. He stared at it as though concerned it might suddenly combust, and appeared to be deeply ashamed of himself.

'Sensei, I'm sorry,' he mumbled. 'It... just came off...'

'Oh.' Saitama stared at the mangled toilet flush resting in the palm of his own hand, except it wasn't his hand anymore and suddenly he just wanted to lie down. '...Okay.'

Chapter Text

Genos had quickly noticed the way Saitama's eyes slid out of focus-- he could easily guess how Saitama felt right now, and was more familiar with it than he wanted to admit. 'Sensei, we should get ready for bed,' Genos suggested. It was still fairly early, but it had been an exhausting day. 'We need to rest so we can start working on a solution tomorrow.'

Saitama twitched, blinking slowly. 'Yeah... good idea, Genos.' He smiled as they returned to the main room, but Genos thought it looked very forced. 'Why don't you lay out the futons? I'll clean up the stuff from dinner.'

Genos hesitated, then nodded and said nothing as Saitama started to clear their dishes away. He didn't like standing by while Saitama did most of the work, but he had to admit that it was probably a good idea for him to stay out of the kitchen for now-- he was far less likely to break anything else while handling the soft futons and blankets.

He finished setting out the futons and looked up as Saitama returned, frowning disapprovingly when he saw that the dishes had been left soaking in the sink. Saitama caught the glance and shrugged. 'Ehh, I'll finish washing them tomorrow.' He retrieved their matching pyjamas from the closet, shoving one set into Genos's hands before he could say anything else about the dishes.

Genos shook out the shirt; Saitama had given him the one with the sleeves torn off. He glanced at Saitama, who had already started to change. 'Sensei, if you wear your usual pyjamas you will tear the shoulder seams.'

Saitama paused with one leg out of his pants. 'Ah... well, I can just leave it off, I guess-- your body doesn't really get cold, does it?'

'My sensors can detect changes in temperature, but the cold should not bother you, sensei.' Genos paused. 'Will you be comfortable without a shirt?'

'Yeah, should be fine.' Saitama finished changing his pants and started tugging his shirt off. 'Hey, aren't you gonna change?'

Genos quickly reached for the hem of his shirt as well. 'Y-yes, of course.' He knew there was no reason he should feel awkward about changing in front of Saitama; this was his body and he had seen it countless times, knew it far better than Genos had any right to. It was absurd to feel so vulnerable for having skin again, especially when he was aware that this body could easily withstand blows that would crush his own plating.

He changed very quickly, trying not to think, not to look... trying to squash the memories that threatened to resurface--

Saitama started to say something, and Genos pulled himself back. 'I'm sorry, sensei, could you repeat that?'

He was carefully not looking at the golden eyes, so he missed the flicker of concern in Saitama's gaze. 'Nahh, never mind,' said Saitama, breaking the silence before it could get too awkward. 'Let's just go to bed, okay? We can talk for a bit if you're not ready to sleep yet.'

Genos glanced up, but he was terrible at reading people without his sensors. 'I would not want to keep you up if you're tired, sensei.'

Saitama shrugged. 'It's fine. Why don't you get comfortable and I'll turn out the lights?'

Genos sat down on his futon, watching Saitama move towards the light switch-- had sensei noticed his clumsiness on the run home? Genos resolved to try harder to get used to this body; breaking Saitama's things was unacceptable, especially since Saitama hated letting Genos pay for repairs... maybe learning how to cope with Saitama's incredible strength would help Genos understand him better, and something good would come of the whole ordeal.

Saitama flopped down next to him with a dull metallic thwump, irises glowing faintly in the dark. Neither of them spoke right away; Saitama settled down and pulled his favourite heart-patterned blanket over himself, then looked up at Genos. 'Come on, you should lie down too.'

Genos slid his legs under his blanket. 'Are you comfortable enough, sensei?'

'Yeah.' Saitama stretched out his arms. 'What about you?'

Genos lay on his back, gazing up at the ceiling. '...For the moment, yes.' He paused. 'I am not used to the dark like this.'

'Huh, guess you're used to the night vision...' Saitama looked sideways at him. 'Do you need to leave a light on?'

'No, the night vision deactivates when sleep mode is enabled. I do not need a night light, sensei; I simply meant that it is strange to be unable to see while moving around.'

'Ah, yeah-- sorry, I wasn't trying to treat you like a kid.'

Genos sighed. 'I know. You do not need to apologise, sensei.'

Saitama lifted a hand, and Genos watched as he traced his features with metal-and-rubber fingertips.  'Your body's pretty amazing, you know, with the night vision and how it can feel and taste things normally... Your doctor did a great job.'

'It is important to Doctor Kuseno that I am still able to live as a regular human,' said Genos. 'He has put a lot of care into things I would not have considered.'

'Huh... like what?'

'Being able to taste, for instance, or...' Genos hesitated. 'Or having a face that looks and feels like a human's.' He could practically feel Saitama's gaze on him, but he kept staring at the dark ceiling as he explained. 'When I first became a cyborg, I only cared about firepower-- it didn't matter what I looked like, as long as I could destroy my enemies.'

Saitama fidgeted. 'But you've changed your mind, right?' His voice sounded oddly hopeful.

'I have come to understand Doctor Kuseno's reasoning,' Genos replied. 'Though I still do not consider physical appearances to be important.'

Saitama laughed softly. 'Man, you're so humble about it, but you know it definitely doesn't hurt to be attractive.'

Genos blinked at Saitama, his face uncomfortably warm. '...You think I'm attractive, sensei?'

Several fans activated in Saitama's chest. 'I mean-- well of course you are; why do you think you've got the huge fanclub? Anyone would say so!'

'Ah. Of course,' Genos mumbled, looking away again. Of course Saitama was only stating a common opinion. Genos couldn't help but feel a little twinge of disappointment, and he scowled at the ceiling. Why should it matter what Saitama thought of his appearance? It was all fake anyway.

'So, uh... did you look like this before you became a cyborg?' Saitama paused. 'I mean, did the doctor try to make you look the same?'

'Yes,' said Genos. 'Doctor Kuseno has altered my appearance slightly over the years to reflect my current age, but my appearance is very close to how I looked as a human.'

Saitama absently brushed his fingers over his face again, and Genos pretended not to notice. Surely it was natural for sensei to be curious. 'What about your eyes?' Saitama asked a moment later. 'Yellow isn't a natural eye colour, and the outside parts aren't usually black...'

'My eyes were a light brown, sort of an amber colour, and my sclerae were white just like anyone else's.'

'Huh... so is there a reason they're like this?' Saitama wiggled his fingers in front of his eyes. 'It seems kind of weird, that they're so cyborg-y when your doctor wants you to look as humanlike as possible-- wouldn't it be better if they looked more normal?'

Genos shook his head. 'It may seem illogical, but it actually helps others' perception of me to have my eyes look so obviously artificial.' He paused while Saitama blinked at him. 'Have you ever heard of the uncanny valley effect, sensei?'

'Uhh... no, I don't think so.'

'It is a naturally ingrained human response to be repulsed by things that look almost human but are slightly off in some way,' Genos explained. 'Even Doctor Kuseno cannot construct an artificial eye that perfectly resembles a human one, and the results are very unsettling-- essentially, more realistic eyes would make me look similar to a moving corpse.'

'Oh... I didn't think of it like that. I guess that'd be pretty creepy.'

'Some individuals with cybernetic eyes prefer more natural designs, but because my entire body is artificial this is the best option for me.'

'Yeah, well, it looks pretty cool.' There was an awkward pause. 'So, uh... what about...' Saitama cast about wildly for a new topic. 'I guess your mouth is pretty sensitive, huh?'

'Yes, sensei,' said Genos, oblivious to Saitama's quiet distress. 'My face and mouth are among the most sensitive areas on my body, and the mouth sensors are programmed to become more active when...' He finally noticed the clouds of steam puffing up around Saitama and frowned. 'Sensei, are you getting any errors? You appear to be overheating.'

Saitama twitched, then let out a shaky laugh. 'I guess I'm just... stressed. You know, with everything that's been happening...'

'I understand,' said Genos, nodding seriously. 'You should try to relax, sensei, and get some sleep.'

'Yeah, probably a good idea.' Saitama flopped onto his back. 'Night, Genos...'

'Sleep well, sensei,' Genos whispered, settling deeper into his pillow and blankets. When he closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of his body's machinery, he almost felt like himself again, the quiet hum of his fans and the familiar smells of their shared apartment gently lulling him to sleep.

---

Genos had drifted off shortly after they stopped talking, but Saitama wasn't so lucky. He rolled over and pressed a hand over his eyes, feeling a pang of envy for his disciple's easy rest-- he was exhausted and Genos's eye-screens helpfully informed him that it was just after midnight, but he wasn't any closer to falling asleep than he'd been when they had first settled down hours before.

He wished he could blame it all on Genos's stupid computers-- he still had no idea how to shut the damn things off, and every so often they blinked distracting alerts and dialog boxes in his eyes-- but he was pretty sure he would have been lying awake even if he still had his own body. The computers had nothing to do with the boundaries he'd come dangerously close to crossing, or the conversatons that kept looping endlessly in his mind...

Saitama couldn't stop thinking about how he kept accidentally coming on to Genos, especially since he had no idea why.

Of course he liked Genos, but it was a comfortable, platonic sort of like. Saitama was pretty clueless when it came to emotional relationshippy stuff, but surely he'd notice a crush on his roommate... wouldn't he? This had to be some sort of weird stress response, right? Genos was fun to have around (even if he was kind of strange and a bit overbearing at times) and Saitama supposed they'd become... friends, for want of a better word. Whatever it was, he liked things the way they were. Messing that up-- leading Genos to think he was some sort of perv-- that was the last thing he wanted.

Thankfully Genos had been too distracted to notice his slip-ups, but the kid was smart and wouldn't stay distracted forever. Saitama groaned softly and rubbed his hands down his face, the textured pads on his palms tugging at the smooth synthetic skin. He really wasn't the type to confront his problems head-on, but he wasn't going to get much sleep anyway and he needed to work this out before he caused permanent damage to their casual relationship.

Saitama had always figured he wasn't into dudes-- not that there was anything wrong with being gay, he'd just never been interested in another guy before. But then, it wasn't like he'd ever been super into girls either; his rather feeble attempts at dating had never lasted long and always ended with him getting dumped, and while he'd kind of enjoyed the sex he didn't see how it was worth the effort and emotional strain. Relationships were exhausting, while Genos's presence was relaxing; that seemed like a good sign at least.

And Genos wasn't just a dude, he was also a cyborg. Saitama had browsed his share of porn, enough to know that cyborg fetishes were definitely a thing-- just not his thing. Besides, he didn't see how he could possibly be attracted to someone who made him feel old by calling him sensei all the time and even teasing him about his premature baldness. Genos could be a real brat sometimes, in addition to being a dude cyborg...

Yep, definitely stress, Saitama decided with a small nod. He definitely wasn't into his bratty cyborg disciple. He rolled over again and pulled his blanket over his head, thinking that maybe now he could finally get to sleep.

He watched three and a half minutes tick past on the digital clock, ignoring another dialog box that blinked up (ironically, it was asking him whether he wished to enter 'sleep mode'; if he hadn't known better he would have sworn the system was mocking him). Just as he was finally calming down, another thought drifted across his mind...

Could Genos even participate in sex? He'd seen Genos naked enough times to be convinced he didn't have anything going on down there (unless there was something hidden underneath that crotch plate, but Saitama firmly dismissed that thought; Genos was definitely not subtle). But then, he supposed that didn't matter either way; there were plenty of ways to get around not having the equipment, so if Genos wanted to...

...Wanted to...

Shit, he was not thinking about Genos touching his junk!

Saitama very firmly told himself that Genos had never shown any sort of sexual desire. The guy was an open book who probably couldn't contain his feelings if he tried; surely Saitama would have noticed if he was into anyone. And it wasn't like Genos didn't have plenty of opportunity to seek out that sort of thing if he wanted it; he was smart and rich and-- and okay, yes, Saitama could admit he was attractive. Any of his fangirls would have jumped at the chance to date him, but Genos had always been dismissive of his fans, if not outright rude. Genos had never mentioned finding anyone attractive before, regardless of gender.

That was what Saitama tried to tell himself, but he knew deep down it was wrong. On the average day, Genos probably gave him more compliments than all of his exes combined. Saitama normally brushed it off, thinking it was nothing more than Genos's way of showing his appreciation for his sensei, but now that he really thought about it... some of the things Genos said weren't exactly appropriate for a student.

Genos did tell him he was attractive, on a regular basis. Saitama was either the least observant man in the world, or he was reading way too much into Genos's actions, and he had no idea which would be worse-- wrongfully assuming Genos had a Thing for him, or--

His stomach did a funny sort of flop and he swallowed, his mouth suddenly very dry. He rolled to his feet, moving very slowly to minimise the sounds of Genos's body, the little creaks and clicks that were so familiar it hurt. He needed a glass of water, needed to move around. Waking Genos would be bad, especially right now, but he was going to go insane if he didn't do... something, anything.

Sleepless nights were never a good time to be stuck alone with your own thoughts. Saitama wasn't entirely sure what to do about it; he usually had the opposite problem and slept too much.

Genos shifted as he neared the door and he froze, the Core vibrating intensely in his chest; it wasn't quite like a racing heartbeat but it was closer than anything Saitama had felt in years, and there was a tiny corner of his mind that hoped Genos would wake up... It occurred to Saitama that Genos nearly always got up before he did, and he wasn't used to being the only one awake. But then Genos turned over and slept on, snoring faintly. Saitama shook his head and continued into the kitchen, filling a glass with the tap turned on low, wondering what a guy like Genos could ever see in someone like him...

He leaned against the counter and sipped from his glass, firmly telling himself it didn't matter. He was too old for Genos, and anyway, the kid could do much better than him. Genos was driven, the sort of person who was going places; he deserved someone amazing and supportive and talented. Saitama was just a bland deadbeat, living alone in a ghost town and only bothering to find jobs when his savings ran out. Someday Genos would figure it out and move on.

Saitama tried to ignore the unpleasant feeling that curled in his gut when he thought of Genos leaving. After all, he'd known it was inevitable from the start...

He found himself staring at the pantry without any recollection of opening the cupboard doors. He wasn't even hungry, but he idly scanned the shelves anyway, his gaze falling on a tall stack of sardine tins. Genos was always saying he had no food preferences, but Saitama didn't believe it; those damn oiled sardines were proof enough. He'd never seen anyone else finish a tin of sardines so quickly; Genos practically inhaled them.

Maybe cyborgs liked weird foods, Saitama mused, picking up a tin and scanning the label curiously. Genos's mouth seemed more sensitive to textures while actual flavours were slightly muted-- did sardines have a unique texture he particularly enjoyed?

Saitama snuck a quick glance into the main room to make sure Genos was still soundly asleep, then popped the lid open-- it was loud in the darkened apartment, but Genos didn't stir, so Saitama grabbed a pair of chopsticks before he could have second thoughts, quickly shoving one of the sardines into his mouth.

The outside was slick from the oil, and it crunched unexpectedly as he bit down, tiny bone splinters poking at the inside of his mouth-- he'd never been fond of sardines so it had been years since he'd last had them, and he definitely didn't remember this. He might have worried about the bones if he hadn't seen Genos eat them countless times; ingesting fish bones clearly didn't have a negative effect on Genos's systems, so Saitama dismissed the thought. It was getting too hard to focus on anything besides the sensations in his mouth anyway.

He'd noticed this during dinner as well, the way Genos's mouth became more sensitive when he ate, but somehow it seemed a lot more intense now that he was alone in the dark kitchen in the middle of the night. It was almost overwhelming, and Saitama wasn't sure whether he liked it or not but he found himself sticking a second sardine in his mouth out of pure fascination.

Part of him felt a little guilty, like he was doing something he shouldn't be, but it was a very small part; at least this was better than the things he'd been thinking about before. He poked through the cupboards again as he chewed another sardine, trying to think of anything else Genos had seemed to like. There was some candy stashed away towards the back; Saitama hadn't had much of a taste for sweets ever since he'd received that huge bag as a gift, but Genos ate hard candies occasionally.

Saitama stuck a lollipop into his mouth, wincing as the strawberry flavour mingled with the fishy sardine taste; he supposed there was an advantage to having an underdeveloped sense of taste after all, as it only took a few seconds and a couple sips of water to neutralise the sardines. He settled down on the floor with his back against the cupboards, shifting the lolly from one cheek to the other while he sorted through the bag of candy for anything that looked particularly interesting.

His tongue curved around the sphere in his mouth, exploring all the tiny imperfections in its surface as he traced little circles on the underside and teased at the stick where it disappeared inside the candy. He wondered how long it had taken to perfect that one little piece of artificial muscle, just as soft and flexible as a human tongue...

Genos's body was probably worth more money than Saitama had ever owned in his life, not even counting the research and development. That was a strange thought.

Saitama bit down hard on the lolly, fracturing the candy. He'd have to remember to brush his teeth after this-- he'd completely forgotten about it with everything else that was going on, and Genos hadn't reminded him. He wasn't sure what Genos's teeth were made of, but even if they were impervious to cavities it seemed rude not to care for them; cyborgs weren't immune to morning breath.

The lolly was nearly gone, so Saitama selected something else from the bag of candy, its colourful wrapper decorated with a fireworks pattern. He opened the little pouch and peered inside; instead of a single piece, this candy had come in the form of a bunch of little sugar crystals. After a few seconds of pondering the best way to eat this, he shrugged and dumped some out onto Genos's textured palm, then tipped the pieces into his mouth--

Something snapped loudly against his tongue and he let out a startled squeak before he managed to suppress the noise. The sugar crystals were fizzing in his mouth, almost like the bubbles in soda but far more intense and less predictable. He slowly licked the remaining candy off his hand, feeling the tiny explosions between his tongue and his palm; this was definitely more enjoyable than the sardines.

He dumped more of the candy on his hand, this time across his fingers, quickly flipping them into his mouth and pressing them firmly against his tongue to hold the sugar crystals in place. He lamented his own inability to feel anything like this, so strong and so much at once... Genos's doctor must really care about him, Saitama thought as he slid his tongue between his fingers. He felt better than he had in a long time.

Saitama withdrew his hand again, loading his fingers with as much of the popping sugar as possible, then dumping the remainder directly into his mouth. He felt it snap at the base of his tongue as he licked along his palm, then pressed the full length of his tongue against the two candy-coated fingers, taking them in as far as they'd go, until the knuckles of the remaining two pressed into his cheek and the fingertips hit the back of his throat. There was no gag reflex, nothing to interrupt the explosion of sensation; he whimpered softly against his fingers as warmth spread along his arms, pooling low in his gut. The wrapper dropped from his free hand and he sagged against the cupboards, fully incapable of processing the warnings flickering past his eyes as his free hand worked its way lower, brushing down his inner thighs...

His eyes narrowed to slits as the entire world was reduced to this-- the electric shocks tumbling down his spine and his tongue slick against Genos's fingers, curling between them and massaging the joints as his head tilted, pushing against Genos's hand in an attempt to take those amazing fingers even deeper. He let himself go before he knew what was happening, lost himself to the moment, to this perfect cascade of sensation that reached its peak in a fierce surge that stole his breath and left him in a daze.

The overwhelming intensity tapered off in small waves like a receding tide, winding back down to a warm glow. Saitama sighed steam and slid lower against the cupboard doors, calm and relaxed with the core's vibrations strong in his chest, like Genos's body pressed close against him, reminding him what it was like to have a heart that could race with excitement, to feel the elusive thrill he'd craved ever since becoming strong--

A hoarse yell cut through the haze and Saitama's eyes snapped open-- the screens were still glitching out and the fans were suddenly loud in his ears, spitting clouds of steam that smelled like the electric tang of his old laptop when it overheated. He remembered where he was, everything that had happened in the last twelve hours, and the pleasant warm feeling rapidly drained away, replaced by shame as he realised just how compromising his current position was.

Saitama winced and let the fingers slide from his mouth, sugary saliva dribbling down his chin, forming sticky strands between the perfect sculpted lips and the rubber pads on his palm and fingers. His other hand was down his pants, fingertips pressed under the edge of the metal crotch plate in the absence of a dick to grab. Not that he needed one to jerk off, apparently. Shit.

...Had Genos heard him? Saitama froze, mortified at the thought, though the part of him that was sick with guilt hoped his disciple would barge in and demand an explanation-- Saitama had no excuse, but he certainly deserved the punishment for what he'd just done. He thought of Genos being worried about peeing and almost laughed; his roommate had been so conscious about putting even a toe over the line, and then Saitama had gone and blasted those same boundaries into fucking outer space, like the time that one-eyed alien guy had punted him to the moon.

He was wondering if he should have just stayed up there, given himself up to the cold and silent vacuum of space where he couldn't fuck up anymore, but then an unintelligible murmur from the main room brought him crashing back to earth.

Genos...?

Even though Saitama couldn't make out the words, there was no mistaking the fear in his voice. Saitama got up, grabbing the dish towel and roughly wiping his slimy hand and face as he looked through the window in the dividing wall-- Genos was still on his futon, curled in a ball and trembling; the computers confirmed that his breathing and heart rate were elevated.

Genos had mentioned having nightmares once, but Saitama had never seen him at their mercy until now. It was easy to forget that Genos was only nineteen, that he'd lived through horrors Saitama couldn't even imagine, but moments like this reminded him that Genos really was just a kid.

Saitama rushed around the divide and knelt at Genos's side, but Genos cried out again before he could do anything else, thrashing violently against his blankets. Saitama just barely managed to throw himself back in time to avoid the fist that smashed down where his knee had been an instant before. For a moment he just stared at the splintered hole in the floorboards, startled into silence, then he settled back against the wall, safely out of reach.

He'd lost count of the number of alarm clocks he'd wrecked in the past couple years, and it was all too easy to imagine Genos's cyborg body crushed just as easily, little cogs and bits of metal plating strewn across the floor. Even Saitama lost control sometimes, in the confused moments between sleeping and waking; Genos could hardly be expected to do any better.

Touching Genos right now would be a very bad idea. Saitama rested his chin on warm metal forearms, painfully aware that he could do nothing to help.

He couldn't remember the last time he felt this awful.

---

The morning sun was warm on his face as he walked to school on a day that had started like any other-- struggling against the body that never felt right, hating all that it represented; he'd always been a stranger in his own skin. But that day had ended differently, in fire and ash, in hot sticky blood and splintered bones, flayed skin splitting and peeling from his flesh. The last day of his human life ended beneath a fiery red sky, stained by thick oily smoke and clouds of dust from the explosions.

He ran, pushing his weak human body to its limits, but he was too late, he was always too late. Sometimes they were dead before he arrived; this time he heard them scream.

The sound of explosions and crumbling rubble echoed in his ears; the stench of gunpowder and charred flesh was heavy in the air and the taste of blood and bile and tears was choking him, all of it overwhelming and unforgettable. The metal man laughed as his home burnt away to nothing, laughed at him for being too weak. He couldn't move, could barely breathe; he should have been in excruciating pain but all he could feel was the grit of rubble and the synthetic fabric melted into the skin of his chest--

He jolted awake, flinging himself upright with one hand raised, poised to attack-- except the position was rendered useless by the absence of the incinerators in his palms. He stared down at hands that were not his own, thought of skin and blood and bone, felt as though the floor had been torn from beneath his feet--

Genos dropped back to his knees, feeling them crack against the floor; the impact should have been painful, but his sensei's body wasn't like an ordinary human's and the sensation barely registered. His stomach twisted and he choked back a sob, pressing a hand to his mouth as he willed himself not to vomit; luckily he'd hardly eaten anything earlier...

'H-hey, Genos... are you alright?'

He glanced up, and noticed that Saitama was sitting against the wall, clearly awake. He had to avert his gaze, unable to look directly at his own body. 'Sensei, I'm sorry,' he mumbled, forcing his shaky limbs into seiza. It was harder than it should have been.

Saitama blinked at him, a flicker of guilt passing over his features. 'What for?'

'I woke you.'

'Nahh, I was already... uh, I got up to get a drink before you started... you know. You had a nightmare, right?'

Genos hesitated, then nodded slowly. 'Did I... say anything?'

'A bit, but I couldn't make it out.' Saitama paused. 'Do you have a lot of nightmares?'

'Not so much anymore, and my cyborg body contains failsafes to prevent me from unintentionally damaging my surroundings.' Genos eyed the hole in the floor. 'I am sorry, sensei.'

'Hey, no, it's not your fault!' said Saitama, waving a hand at Genos. 'Seriously, I've smashed a ton of stuff in my sleep. You're doing really well for not being used to it-- controlling my strength like that is hard, even for me.'

'...Oh?' Genos glanced up, though he still didn't quite make eye contact. 'Do you have nightmares too, sensei?'

'Kind of, I guess... I have pretty vivid dreams, but they're usually about stupid stuff, not real nightmares.'

Saitama didn't ask what Genos had dreamed about, but Genos could tell he had a pretty good idea-- there was only one obvious answer. He looked down at his hands, shivered and clenched them into fists with a sharp intake of breath...

'...Do you want to talk about it?' Saitama asked softly.

Genos shook his head, hunching his shoulders, then mumbled a reply. 'This is difficult for me. The last time I had skin was...'

'Ah.' Saitama fidgeted; Genos heard the movement rather than saw it. 'I guess you probably have some pretty bad memories associated with this, huh?'

Genos was very still for a moment, then he nodded, biting his lip. 'I'm sorry,' he whispered again, his voice cracking.

'It's fine,' said Saitama. 'Do you want anything? Tea, or a glass of water?'

Genos blinked slowly at him, then started to get up. 'You should go back to sleep, sensei. I don't want to troub--'

'No!' Saitama jumped up, cutting in front of Genos; he started steaming when Genos raised an eyebrow. 'Uhh, I mean, it's not any trouble...'

Genos frowned at him. 'Sensei, I...' He sniffed the air, his frown deepening. 'Did you burn something?'

Saitama's shoulders sagged as he jetted more steam. 'I...' He looked around frantically; luckily for him Genos was squinting into the kitchen and didn't see. 'I had a malfunction,' he finished lamely.

Genos's gaze snapped back towards him. 'What sort of malfunction? Did you sustain any damage?' He skimmed his fingers over the familiar metal plates, looking for anything that might be out of place.

'N-no, nothing like that.' Saitama wasn't looking at Genos, flustered at the close contact. 'Really, Genos, I'm fine...'

'Mm...' Genos dropped his hands. 'What did the error messages say? My systems are designed to automatically run diagnostic tests when malfunctions occur, to determine the nature of the error.'

'Oh...' Saitama shifted guiltily. 'I wasn't paying attention... sorry.'

'Well... I am sure the malfunction was very distressing for you. I suppose it must be difficult to pay attention to the notifications while your body is responding in ways you are not accustomed to.'

'...Yes,' said Saitama, expelling more steam from his shoulders. 'Of course. Very distressing.'

Genos stared for a moment, eyes narrowing slightly. 'I will make a note to check my body's fans tomorrow, sensei. They appear to be overreacting, which could be related to your malfunction; the filters may require cleaning.'

'Y-yeah, you do that,' said Saitama, nodding towards the table where Genos had left his notebook out. 'I'll start the tea, okay?'

Genos wanted to protest letting his sensei go to the trouble when they should both be sleeping, but he was too tired and Saitama seemed to really want the tea. He sighed and nodded, watching as Saitama turned and headed into the kitchen. 'Thank you, sensei,' he said softly.

Saitama paused in the middle of gathering up the candy wrappers. 'No problem,' he replied, struggling to keep the guilt from his voice.

Genos bought it, settling down at the table to take notes on the maintenance he believed Saitama required. He really was a good kid, too trusting despite all he'd been through. Saitama noticed the scorch marks on the cupboard as he shoved the bag of candy back inside-- not only had Genos never doubted his lie about the fictional 'malfunction', he'd hardly needed to say anything before Genos had practically invented an excuse for him. There was no way to hide the scorch marks and no point in trying to attribute the distinct pattern to anything other than Genos's back vents, but Genos was unlikely to even question their presence with the convenient lie already in place.

It wasn't the first time Saitama had lied to Genos, but the circumstances of this particular instance made him feel a thousand times worse. He put the kettle on for tea and shoved the half-empty sardine tin into the fridge. He owed Genos the truth about what he'd done, but he was a coward and his head hurt, and he just wanted this night to be over.

Morning was a long way off, and he didn't expect the remaining hours to pass easily.

Chapter Text

Saitama must have finally dozed off because the next thing he knew an alarm was beeping shrilly in his ears, jerking him awake again. He rolled over, groggily swatting at the spot his eyes had helpfully marked with some sort of targeting circle--

'Ow!'

Saitama blinked, struggling to make out the text on the screen as the bald figure beside him quickly sat up-- his mind finally caught up a few seconds later, sending a fresh wave of guilt coursing through him.

'Oh, shit...' Saitama sat up as well; luckily this seemed to disable the alarm. 'I'm so sorry, Genos!'

'It's alright, sensei,' said Genos, rubbing his jaw. 'Your body is unharmed-- you simply startled me.'

Saitama glanced around, looking for his clock. 'What time is it?'

Genos blinked slowly at him, not giving his usual prompt reply. The pause was long enough that Saitama almost said something else, but then Genos finally spoke. 'Sensei, my system interface displays the current time and date. You should be able to access that information. I... cannot answer your question as I am now.'

'Oh. Right.' Saitama tried to focus on the screens, feeling like even more of an asshole than before. The relevant information was in a column in his peripheral vision, which meant that he couldn't actually look directly at it. He squinted (which of course did nothing to help) and struggled to read the time.

'Shit, Genos, do you always wake up at six?'

'Ah-- yes, sensei.' Genos paused. '...Did my alarm wake you?'

Saitama squirmed. 'It's not a big deal.' That was a lie; his headache had returned with a vengeance as soon as he sat up and he really wished he could have slept longer (if only to deliver himself from his own shame) but he'd probably earned this as some sort of karmic punishment. 'Sorry I woke you up.'

Genos shook his head. 'I was already awake-- I am accustomed to sleeping less than the average amount.' He started to get up. 'You may disable the alarm and go back to sleep, sensei. I will start breakfast.'

'No, I'm already up, it's fine.' Saitama quickly got to his feet. 'We should start planning things, anyway.'

'Mm.' Genos glanced through the window between the kitchen and main room, glaring at the dirty dishes in the sink as though they had personally offended him. '...I will also need to check my body's fans, sensei.'

Saitama winced. 'Oh... right.' He'd half-forgotten about the stupid 'malfunction' story thanks to his overwhelming embarassment over what he'd done to Genos's body, but of course Genos would remember. Maybe there would actually be something wrong with the fans, and Genos wouldn't suspect--

'Why were you sitting on the floor?'

Genos had ducked into the kitchen while Saitama wasn't paying attention, kneeling to examine the scorch marks on the cupboards. Saitama sighed; of course Genos would never let it drop. He was staring expectantly up at Saitama, as intense as usual-- it looked strangely out of place on Saitama's typically bland features.

'Sensei...?'

Saitama fidgeted, suddenly very interested in examining his textured palms and jointed fingers. 'Ahh... well...'

Genos's eyes narrowed, brows snapping together. 'Sensei! Did you fall down?'

Saitama twitched. Of course he hadn't, but he didn't have any other explanation for the scorched cupboards; it was too late to confess to the truth, but his mind was too slow and sluggish to come up with anything else and the lies were making him feel sick.

Genos was suddenly at his elbow, concern etched all over his face. 'Please sit down, sensei,' he said, voice quiet but very firm-- Saitama never would have thought his own face could look like that. Genos put his hands on Saitama's shoulders, guiding him back to the futons, and he didn't try to resist.

Genos sat him down and started towards the closet. 'Sensei, you should run system diagnostics while I retrieve my tools and cleaning supplies.'

'Uh... how?'

Genos stopped and stared at him like he'd asked how to breathe. 'Open the diagnostics menu and select the full syst--'

'No, like... where is the diagnostic thingy?'

Genos blinked at him, his eyes going glassy. Saitama was starting to get worried when he suddenly turned away, ducking into the closet. 'I'm sorry. Forget it.'

'Uh...' Saitama watched as he picked up a box of spare parts and froze, staring at nothing in particular for a long moment. 'Genos...? Hey, Genos!'

Genos jumped as though he'd been electrocuted. 'Yes, sensei!'

'Dude... are you okay?'

'I am fine.' Genos sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anything. He grabbed his tool kit and returned to sit beside Saitama.

'Umm... so, you don't need me to run that scan thing after all?'

Genos started opening panels in Saitama's chest, his movements slow and deliberate. 'It would be helpful, but I... I do not know how to answer your question.' He paused, pressing a thumb against the sheathing under the chest plates; Saitama struggled not to squirm at the touch. 'My system interface is very intuitive, so I'm not sure how to describe it.'

Saitama privately disagreed, but he didn't want to stress Genos out more than he was already. 'So... what are you doing now?'

Genos started on a long explanation about fans and filters; Saitama tried to listen but Genos used a lot of technical terms he wasn't familiar with, and once he'd lost the thread of the conversation there was little hope he'd understand. But giving detailed explanations about how his cyborg body functioned seemed to calm Genos down, so Saitama didn't interrupt to ask for clarification.

Instead, he focused on the fingers sliding into the cavities in his chest-- it was weirdly intimate in an unnerving sort of way, but thankfully Genos's movements were bland and clinical, never lingering on the artificial nerves and sensors. For Genos, this sort of contact was probably no stranger than a casual touch on the shoulder; he was probably used to his doctor touching him like this all the time. It probably hadn't even occurred to Genos that Saitama wasn't used to being touched, especially not like this...

It's just standard maintenance... no big deal, just Genos doing normal maintenance on his own body, right...?

...But what would it feel like to be touched by Genos's textured fingertips, to feel them pressing against the smooth skin of his chest, trailing down his stomach to wrap around his--

'Sensei!'

Saitama jumped, suddenly aware of the steam clouding the air around them. 'Huh?' Genos was giving him an annoyed look, which made him wonder how long Genos had been trying to get his attention. 'Is... is something wrong?'

'Your core temperatures are rising again.'

'Oh... okay. Uh, is that a problem?'

'I could not find anything wrong with the fans, and the filters are all in good condition. Are you getting any proximity warnings?'

'Warnings?' Saitama recalled how Genos could detect approaching enemies, usually before Saitama had any idea. 'Oh, you mean like... the scanny thing that detects monsters and stuff? I don't see anything-- does your body do that automatically?'

Genos nodded. 'If you had entered battle mode, that could account for the heightened temperatures, although...' Genos leaned forward, bringing their faces uncomfortably close. The fans got noticeably louder, venting fresh steam into the already warm room. 'You do not appear to be in battle mode.'

Saitama couldn't move, couldn't seem to breathe. His normally dull brown eyes burned, his bland features unusually sharp; every line of the familiar compact body before him seemed to vibrate with tightly contained power-- Saitama wasn't accustomed to thinking about his own impossible strength, had simply accepted it and moved on with his life, but now he was quite literally staring that strength in the face... he wasn't sure how he felt about it.

Was this how Genos saw him...?

And then the face was gone, so quickly Saitama had to take a moment to figure out what had happened-- Genos had thrown himself back, his elbow coming down hard on the edge of the table with a loud crack. He quickly pulled himself into seiza, bowing low to the floor. 'I'm sorry, sensei, I will start breakfast at once!'

'Genos, what...' Saitama began, but Genos had already fled into the kitchen, leaving Saitama alone with his thoughts.

What was that about...?

---

Genos felt oddly numb as he mechanically got out the frying pan and the carton of eggs. He knew his own body, was deeply familiar with the mechanics and programming that let his human brain interface with the weapons and computer systems. He wasn't a genius or an expert, nowhere near Doctor Kuseno's level, but he knew enough to keep himself in good condition. And he certainly knew how his body responded to stress-- adrenaline automatically triggered his Core to generate more power, an artificial imitation of the natural 'fight or flight' response.

Ordinarily, the excess power would be diverted to his weapons and the network of cables and servos that controlled his movements, making him faster and stronger than he was normally. But his body hadn't been in battle mode just now, the heightened Core activity serving no apparent function...

There was only one possible explanation for this discrepancy: Saitama was afraid of him.

Not of him as Genos, of course (in their usual states Genos couldn't even touch him) but now that their positions were reversed... there was no mistaking the look Genos had seen in those gold-and-black eyes, wide-eyed and stunned.

It made sense, of course. Saitama was the strongest person in the world, possibly even in the whole universe... but as strong as he was, Genos had almost never seen him damage anything on accident. Saitama clearly understood his own strength with a degree of intimacy comparable to Genos's understanding of his cyborg body-- Genos had always been impressed by Saitama's strength, but he'd never truly appreciated the level of control that strength required until now.

Genos had watched Saitama part the clouds, level mountains, defeat every enemy he encountered with ease, yet he knew he'd never seen Saitama's full strength. He had never feared that strength until now.

He looked down at his hand, at the fingers that had pressed deep indentations into the frying pan's handle as though it were soft clay instead of metal. This was the strength he'd desired, the entire reason he'd become Saitama's disciple. For the first time since he'd watched Saitama obliterate that mosquito girl, he wondered if it was too much. What was the point of being strong enough to defeat any enemy if he couldn't protect people from himself?

I don't deserve this strength, he thought as he tried to pick up an egg, as his fingers went straight through the shell. He stared at his dripping fingers until his vision blurred, then he sniffed and angrily rubbed his forearm across his eyes. He wasn't worthy of his sensei's incredible strength, and maybe he never would be, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He had to take responsibility for their current predicament, couldn't force Saitama to carry his weight.

Genos took a deep breath and reached for a second egg, successfully lifting it out of the carton-- only to watch helplessly when it exploded all over his hand as soon as he tried to crack it. He wanted to scream and throw the carton out the window, but he just let out a choked sob instead.

He heard the click of metal limbs in the hall but couldn't bear to look up as Saitama shuffled into the kitchen. 'Hey, Genos...'

'I'm sorry, sensei,' Genos repeated, his voice barely above a whisper. He accepted the dish towel from Saitama, wiping the egg off his hand.

'You know... they say you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.'

That got Genos's attention. 'I... don't think this is what was meant.' He paused, rubbing his arm over his face again. 'And I was not planning to make an omelette, anyway. We do not have the correct ingredients.'

'It's okay.' Saitama reached for the egg carton. 'I don't want omelettes anyway-- I'm feeling scrambled enough as it is.'

Genos frowned. 'Should I clean up?'

Saitama transferred the unbroken eggs to a bowl. 'Nahh, I've got this... but it would be eggcellent if you'd put on hot water for tea and miso.'

'Sensei...' Genos mumbled.

'I know we're kinda walking on eggshells here, but you know... we're in this together, Genos.'

Genos ducked his head, pressing a hand against his face, but he couldn't entirely hide the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. 'These jokes are uneggceptable, sensei.'

Saitama emitted a strange wheezing snort that rapidly devolved into a series of increasingly distressing vocal glitches. 'G-Gen-nos... yhh...'

'Sensei! Are you--'

Saitama waved him away, trying to catch his breath and only succeeding in emitting a strangled noise that sounded like a chorus of very distressed frogs. 'Y'r... l-laugh-i-ing... 's... fhhhk--'

Genos froze, caught somewhere between embarassment and utter shock. 'You're... laughing?'

Saitama nodded, grinning helplessly and wiping at the clear fluid leaking from his eyes as he struggled to get himself under control, but the sounds still coming from his artificial throat were more than he could handle. He sagged helplessly against the counter, emitting a drawn out squeaky snort not unlike the screech of an improperly played oboe.

Genos pressed his hands over his face, shaking uncontrollably as he lost what remained of his composure. He slid to the floor, remembering for the first time in years what it felt like to laugh until his stomach cramped and his face ached from smiling so hard-- he'd forgotten all the little ways an organic body could hurt. He knew he must have laughed like this as a child, back when he was human, but he couldn't remember any of the things he might have found amusing; he remembered very little of his former life, couldn't say what colour his house had been or recall the names of his neighbours. He barely remembered his parents' faces, and knew that was no accident.

He wasn't sure whether he was laughing or crying anymore. Probably a little of both.

Neither of them could have said how long they sat on the kitchen floor in varying degrees of hysterics, but Saitama finally managed to get himself under control, wiping at the strangely slick fluid smeared across his face. 'Hey, Genos... is this oil?'

Genos lifted the hem of his pyjama shirt, burying his face in the fabric; it smelled like the bargain-brand laundry soap they used and a little like his own coolants and cleaners, but it also had that uniquely Saitama-ish smell to it, the one that always made him feel safe, at home. '...Yes, it is an oil-based lubricant... one of a few that my body generates naturally.' He sat a little straighter. 'Doctor Kuseno designed my body so that it requires as little maintenance as possible.'

'So you can cry pretty much like normal, but you can't laugh?' Saitama sniffed at the oil on his fingertips, then made a motion as though to lick them before very quickly dropping his hand. 'Seems like kind of messed up priorities.'

'My eyes require lubrication, just as a human's do,' said Genos, almost defensively. He grabbed a fresh towel and passed it to Saitama. 'Here, sensei.'

Saitama took the towel, rubbing it over his face. 'Well, at least like this you got the chance to laugh like a normal person.' He paused, lowering the towel to lay across his knees. 'You know... I think that's the first time I've seen you laugh.'

Genos raised an eyebrow. 'It is... rather unforgettable.'

The corner of Saitama's mouth twitched. 'So... is that why you're so stoic all the time?'

'...I don't follow, sensei.'

'I mean, because your laugh sounds like you're dying... you seem like the type to avoid it on purpose once you knew.'

Genos was quiet for a long moment. 'I have not laughed like that since becoming a cyborg-- I had no idea this would happen. I suppose Doctor Kuseno has not had the opportunity to calibrate my vocal synthesisers for that type of output.'

The smile slid off Saitama's face. '...It's been four years, Genos. You... haven't laughed once?'

Genos nodded. 'I've had nothing to laugh about, since...' He shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. 'I suppose I have always been the serious type, sensei. I did not laugh much as a human, either.'

Saitama scowled and got up, putting the water on. 'Well, as soon as we get back to normal we're gonna get you to your doctor so he can fix your voice calibrator thing.'

Genos frowned and stood as well, his teeth pulling at his lower lip. 'If you think it's important, sensei...'

'Of course it's important.' Saitama turned back towards him, pinching his cheeks. 'Because I want to make you laugh again. Every day. And it'll be better if you don't sound like you're about to explode every time.'

Genos's breath caught and he stepped back; Saitama quickly released his face, suddenly emitting steam again. 'I will bring it up to Doctor Kuseno,' Genos mumbled, turning back towards the hall. 'I should go change and get ready for the day.'

'Ah, yeah, good idea-- you can wear any of my stuff that you want.'

'Thank you, sensei, but I think I would feel more like myself in my own clothes... if that's alright with you.'

Saitama got the tea and miso out of the cupboards. 'Yeah, that's fine. You just want miso?'

'Yes.' Genos quickly took off his pyjamas, trying to look at himself as little as possible. 'Will you have anything else, sensei?'

'Uhh... nah, I think I'll just stick with miso too. I'm not really hungry, so... yeah.'

Genos pulled his pants on-- they were a little too long, just as he'd expected, but he also found that the fabric was pulled tighter than he was used to, particularly around the hips and thighs, and... everything in between. He felt his face heating up and frowned-- of course Saitama's human skin would give him higher sensory input, especially in an area where his own body was mostly metal plating with lower sensor density. He hadn't even noticed this yesterday, though, so he'd probably get used to it quickly.

He tugged on two of his sleeveless t-shirts, mindful of the fact that Saitama's body was impacted by differences in temperature to a far greater extent than he was accustomed to-- as a cyborg, Genos's body was designed to self-regulate, and while his sensors could detect minute changes in temperature down to fractions of a degree, he didn't feel hot or cold the same way a human would. Saitama might be impervious to damage, but it seemed he was not immune to the discomfort of enduring extreme temperatures.

And it seemed that even the strongest man in the world could still catch a common cold. Luckily the weather had been moderate the past few days, but Genos pulled on one of his sleeveless hoodies just to be safe. He couldn't imagine the horror of letting his sensei's body get sick, especially since they would probably get switched back soon, and it would be Saitama who was forced to deal with the unpleasantness of being sick. Genos had to do everything in his power to take care of sensei's body for him.

Saitama brought the tea and miso to the table while Genos scowled intensely at the zipper pull on his hoodie; it took a lot of concentration to maintain his grip on the tiny piece of metal without accidentally crushing it. Saitama really was amazing, to be able to handle this sort of thing without a second thought...

'Soup's ready,' said Saitama, sprawling on the floor beside the table.

'Mm...' Genos looked down at his feet as he adjusted his hoodie. 'I'm almost ready, I just need to roll up the bottoms.'

Saitama scowled; he could never tell whether Genos was intentionally teasing him when he brought up things like Saitama's baldness or the fact that he was shorter. He watched Genos slowly crouch down to roll up his pants, suddenly curious. 'So, hey, Genos... were you this tall before you became a cyborg?'

'No, sensei; my height was fairly average for my age. Doctor Kuseno designed my original body to be as close to my human one as possible, but I wasn't--' Genos paused, rubbing his thumb along the hem of his pants.  'He asked for my input, then slowly transitioned me to the body I wanted. I was impatient, but Doctor Kuseno said that I would be more comfortable if I got used to the changes over time.'

'Yeah...' Saitama sipped at his miso-- the broth was still near boiling temperature, but the heat against his lips was oddly dull. He supposed Genos's body had to be able to withstand the heat of his incinerators, but maybe the tradeoff was that he didn't feel warmth like Saitama was used to. Maybe that's why he has such a hard time relaxing in the bath... Saitama set his bowl back down. 'I guess I never thought about it before, but it's pretty overwhelming when your body changes suddenly.'

'It is difficult to have a body that does not match how you see yourself, regardless of how extreme the change is.' Genos glanced up at Saitama. 'It does not get easier, no matter how much time passes.'

Saitama fidgeted, turning his teacup between his palms; Genos definitely sounded like he was speaking from experience. 'Genos, do you... ever wish you had your old body back?'

There was something unfamiliar in Genos's gaze, something Saitama couldn't place. 'No,' he answered bluntly, before looking back down to roll up his other pants leg.

Saitama watched over the top of his cup. Not even once? he wondered, but he didn't speak up. Genos was probably the worst liar he'd ever met; when he had an opinion on something it was a struggle for him to say nothing, let alone tell an outright lie... especially about something as important as this. If Genos said that was how he felt, it had to be correct... and in any case, he supposed Genos wasn't the sort of person to second-guess his choices or get caught up in hypothetical scenarios.

...But he couldn't help wondering what Genos had meant by that-- was he saying he saw himself as no more than a machine? Or was there something about his cyborg body that bothered him?

'Sensei, are you feeling unwell?'

Saitama jumped, almost spilling his miso. 'N-no, I was just... thinking.'

Genos bent over to move the cushion a little closer to the table. 'You looked very troub--' He broke off when he heard a strange popping sound, freezing when he came to the realization that his pants were suddenly a lot less tight--

Across the table, Saitama choked on his tea, staring at the way the seam of Genos's pants had split neatly down his ass. He had to take a moment to get himself under control (if he started laughing again the soup would be cold by the time he calmed down) but Genos still hadn't moved when he looked up again. 'Huh... guess I've got a bigger ass than I thought.'

Genos covered his face with both hands, but it wasn't enough to hide the way his whole head had gone the colour of a ripe tomato. 'Sensei,' he mumbled, 'please refrain from speaking about your body in that way.'

Saitama snorted softly, then got up and headed to the closet, grabbing a pair of his own pants for Genos. 'You should probably wear these after all.'

Genos accepted them with a small bow, popping a few more stitches. 'Y-yes, sensei...'

Saitama glanced down at his bare chest and arms while Genos quickly changed pants. 'Ah, Genos... how are we gonna cover up your body?' Genos glanced up at him and he waved a hand in front of his face. 'You kind of stand out, and it'd be bad if someone recognised you and started asking questions, so we should figure out some sort of disguise for me.'

'Ah, of course, sensei.' Genos watched as Saitama ducked back into the closet, rummaging through some boxes. 'We should also cover your distinctive bald head in case someone recognises you.'

Saitama scowled at him. 'No one's gonna recognise me. Without my hero suit, I just look like an average guy.'

Genos gave him a long look. 'Sensei, you are anything but average.'

Saitama shivered a little and quickly turned back to the boxes. '...Well, if you'd be more comfortable in a hat, I've got a couple here.' Saitama pulled out two rather threadbare hats and a pair of 100-yen sunglasses, the latter of which he slid over his face before glancing in the mirror to check how well they covered Genos's eyes. 'Do you have anything with sleeves? I don't think any of my shirts will fit over your big shoulders.'

Genos shook his head. 'It wouldn't help anyway, sensei-- the shape of the armour would be too obvious, even under a shirt.'

'Oh... yeah, guess you're right.'

'Hmm...' Genos stepped closer, running a thumb along the edge of the shoulder plate. 'Hold still, sensei.' He fiddled with the shoulder, using tools Saitama hadn't noticed him picking up, but despite his curiosity Saitama forced himself to look away. He hadn't forgotten the phantom pain from having his arms changed last night and wasn't sure if whatever Genos was doing might trigger the same response... better not to risk it.

A moment later, Genos lifted the plate away entirely, leaving the rest of the arm intact. Saitama glanced down, examining the bare shoulder more intently when it didn't trigger more pain-- it was shaped a lot more like a regular shoulder like this, with cables covered in black sheathing like his neck and what looked like some sort of artificial muscle. Exposed vents were set along the front and back of the shoulder, aligned with the slits in the shoulder plate. Genos rubbed a finger over the top of the shoulder, and Saitama shivered in response to the touch.

'Without the shoulder guards, you should be able to wear something over the arms,' Genos explained.

'Will it be okay like this?' Saitama shrugged the shoulder as Genos scooted to the other side. 'If it gets wet or damaged...'

'The circuitry is contained within waterproof sheathing,' said Genos. 'The armour's primary function is to offer protection in battle, which should not be an issue as we cannot risk fighting anyway.'

'Okay,' said Saitama. 'This should work, then.'

Saitama tugged on the shirt and pants Genos picked for him, then pulled the largest hoodie he owned over his head-- even without the plating, Genos's shoulders filled it out better. He thought back to what Genos had said about his doctor letting him pick his own body, wondering if 'nice shoulders' had been one of his requests.

With the hat and sunglasses, he looked... not quite inconspicuous, but at least he wasn't likely to be immediately recognised as Genos, which was all that mattered. 'Okay, I think that's--'

'Sensei.' Genos stepped close behind him, reaching up to tug the collar of his turtleneck higher. Saitama sucked in a breath, his entire body going rigid-- Genos's neck was a lot more sensitive than he would have expected, and the fingers brushing just under his ears sent waves of staticky heat down his spine. He glared at Genos in the mirror, but the face over his shoulder was blank.

'My neck is still showing a little, but there isn't much we can do about that.'

'Ah, y-yeah.' He watched as Genos returned to the table, sitting down and sipping his miso. Had that been deliberate just now, or did Genos really not realise what he was doing, what Saitama felt every time those fingers brushed over the more sensitive sections of sheathing...?

'Sensei, we should finish this and head out.'

'R-right.' Saitama quickly sat down again, trying to focus on his breakfast and failing miserably. He didn't protest when Genos cleared away and washed the dishes, and couldn't have repeated any of the things they said as they put their shoes on and headed out the door.