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Z City Neon

Chapter Text

I could tell the kid was trouble from the moment he walked into my office.

It was nearly the end of my posted hours, not counting the long lunch I'd taken, and I typically used the time to think about cleaning up and decide to do it tomorrow. The shadows across my desk got deeper. The neon lights of the fortune teller downstairs lit up, casting an otherworldly green glow throughout the room. Then... the door opened, the bells I'd tied to it (to wake me up from any impromptu naps) jingled, and there he was.

Broad shoulders in a suit cut to fit them, blond hair over the kind of face that made schoolgirls swoon, and a confident stride that clanked with every step. I'd seen enough mods in my day to know what that meant.

"Detective Saitama?" The voice was young, but if he was as modified as I suspected, that didn't mean much.

"Just Saitama's fine, kid."

He gestured at the empty chair in front of my desk. There were technically two, I'd worked hard to find a matching set, but the other one was covered in papers. Coupons and takeout menus mostly.

"May I sit?"

"Go for it."

Out of habit, I put my hand out to calm Rover. He was a weird dog, even considering the circumstances of his adoption, and he didn't like hardly anyone but me and my buddy Mumen. When clients arrived, rare as it was, he would often punctuate their words with growls.

But he was completely silent when the kid sat down. Not so much as a whine. I glanced over to his corner, to see if he was even awake, and saw two of his six eyes open and watching the kid, lazily.

"I'm sorry to arrive without an appointment."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I've been looking for a detective for some time, and I heard you have the skills I need."

Idle flattery. I wasn't a bad dick, by any means, but the only skills I had that any other detective wouldn't were in the realm of punching things. "What's your story, then?"

The kid took a breath, clenching his fists in his lap. He was wearing elaborately decorated cool gray gloves that didn't go with the warm gray pinstripe of his suit. For a second I wondered about that, he looked so put-together otherwise, but then he started talking.

"My name is Genos. I'm nineteen years old, and four years ago, when I was fifteen, I was up late with my father. I had a fever and couldn't sleep, and he was waiting for a business call, so he urged my mother to go to bed and said he could tend to me. I can't remember everything, I was tired and ill, but I believe it was past one in the morning when someone knocked on the door. My father seemed annoyed, but not surprised, and he didn't say anything as he left me on the couch to answer it. I couldn't hear what they said, but it sounded like an adult man. Then-"

My eyes had glazed over around the time the kid mentioned his mother, and he showed no signs of stopping, so I banged a hand on a clean part of my desk and snapped, "Kid! You're not on the clock yet, and I have shit to do! Twenty words or less!"

The kid nodded solemnly, thinking for a moment. "My family was killed in a fire four years ago. I believe it was murder."

"Holy shit." I felt like a jackass. "I'm sorry, forget what I said. Finish your story."

"It's unnecessary, detective. If you choose to take the case, I can give you all the details and evidence I've collected."

It wasn't the kind of case I was used to. Normally I just followed spouses suspected of cheating, or regular folks suspected of faking their injuries for insurance purposes. Okay, there had been a few more complicated ones... Like when that rich nutbar from up on the hill hired me to fire his old bodyguard. Or when the environmentalists were causing trouble and the city paid me under the table to prove they were using terrorist tactics. Or when Donna Fubuki got me to convince that boxer to...

"What do you need me for, anyway? If it was murder, that's a job for the police."

The kid snorted, the first real bit of human emotion he'd shown. I knew what he meant. There were maybe two honest cops in the whole Z City Metro, and even they couldn't fight the system-deep corruption.

"The police in my town made very little effort to investigate. I don't know why, but I have a paper trail leading from my hometown to the gun runners here."

"Gun runners? I thought it was a fire."

The kid shook his head. "My father was shot by the man at the door. I told the police afterward, but I'd been in the hospital for over a month, and I admitted I was sick that night. They didn't believe me."

"Shit, kid, I'm sorry." I didn't want to say it, but the cops could be right. An upset feverish teenager could imagine all kinds of things. And losing family was hard. You wanted to do something, you wanted someone to blame. "Look, I see where you're coming from," better than I'd admit, "but this isn't the kind of case you hire a private detective for. What would I do if I found the truth? I'm not a cop, I can't arrest anyone."

"I want the truth, detective. I want to know who killed my father, and why. Once I know, I'll be satisfied."

He was lying. Of course he was. This stupid kid was going to try and play vigilante, and get himself killed too. I might need the money, but I couldn't write this kid's death order.

But... there was an answer I needed too. "Why me? Really? I'm not the only game in town. I'm not even the only solo game."

By way of answer, the kid put his (expensive, leather) briefcase in his lap and took out a thick brown piece of paper, folded for so long that it had started to crack. He handed it to me over the stack of case files on my desk.

I knew what it was before I opened it. A drawing of myself, years ago, before the stress made my hair fall out, before I stopped caring. The artist made me look a lot more photogenic than I really was, which I'd always suspected was the point of these "artistic" posters. The younger me was wearing trunks and a robe, and was punching in the direction of the "camera" with my teeth gritted, no mouth guard. Ridiculous.

Across the top, in block letters, it said "One Punch Man." At the bottom was a list of my upcoming, at the time, fights. If I remembered right, this was one of the first ones they printed with that stupid nickname.

"Kid, this was a long time ago."

"Not that long. Only three years."

"A lot can happen in three years. A guy can get out of shape, for example."

The kid's eyes roamed over me, making me feel uncomfortably underdressed, despite wearing a vest to hide how wrinkled my shirt was. His gaze was sharp, intense, like all of his actions, like everything he did was one hundred percent serious. But it lingered over my rolled-up sleeves and the way my vest buttons strained across my chest, and when he looked up I could have sworn his tongue darted out of the corner of his mouth for a split second.

"You don't look out of shape," he said, tone just as stoic as it had been this whole time. No more, no less.

I cast wildly for another excuse. "I'm a detective, not muscle-for-hire."

"I know. That's what I need. I've investigated as much as I can on my own. I need someone with skills, training, equipment." I told myself the kid's eyes definitely didn't flicker downward on that last word. "And I need someone who has experience with the kind of people I think this trail leads to."

There wasn't much point in denying the local boxing circuit was under mob control. Fubuki and her goons were small time, but her father ran half the coast.

But this kid was planning on suicide. I'd rather he find somebody dumb enough to take his money, who wouldn't find the answers, than hire me and get in so deep he'd never get out.

Before I could say no, definitively turn him down, Rover whuffled and got to his feet. He plodded sleepily over to the kid and poked his nose at the briefcase.

The kid smiled, suddenly looking like he really was only nineteen. "Is this your pet?"

"Yeah, that's Rover."

"He wants my food," the kid pulled a sandwich out of his briefcase, and Rover immediately sat and started wagging his tail.

"Don't give it to him, he knows better."

"Not even a little?" He looked nearly as hopeful as Rover. And me being a sucker, I gave in.

"Okay, but it's your funeral."

The kid fished some meat from the sandwich and fed it to Rover from his palm, then scratched his ears with both hands while the dog ate it. I just watched, stunned by both how quickly Rover had taken to this guy (he'd accept food from Mumen, but he wouldn't eat from anyone's hand but mine), and the realization that those weren't gloves the kid was wearing, those were his hands. Both hands and at least part of both legs, entirely cybernetic.

I'd been assuming he escaped the fire that took his family, but now...

I swallowed around the guilt rising in my throat. "Look, kid, this job you want... I don't know what to tell you. I can't give you an estimate, or a timetable. I can't promise there's even anything to find here."

One more thing came out of the briefcase, a huge wad of cash, wrapped neatly with a rubber band. He dropped it on my desk with a weighty thud, dislodging some pictures from the Raymond case. "I'll pay all your rent and expenses, plus a standard daily fee, for thirty days. Provided I can come with you during your investigations."

"You drive a hard bargain, kid."

"Genos."

"Genos." I couldn't resent the reminder, since I had, in fact, forgotten his name. I stood up and stuck my hand across the desk for him to shake. The kid did, his hand stiff and chilly. "Welcome to the team, I guess. For the next thirty days."

Rover's tail thumped on the floor as it wagged.

 


 

I had dinner with Mumen a couple times a week, to get the lay of the land, and my scheduled dose of human contact. He was a good guy, too good to be a cop, especially in a garbage city like ours. We'd actually gone to school together, though we weren't friends then, and Mumen was quite possibly the only person on the planet who'd mourn when I bought it. Even if that was only because he was too soft-hearted to admit I had it coming.

We met at the usual place, a noodle stand halfway between my office and the police station, notable only for its location and frugality. Mumen was already halfway out of uniform, which meant he was done for the night. He wouldn't take off so much as a shoelace when he was on the job.

"How was your day?" he asked, leaving the "any clients?" part unsaid. I told him anyway.

"Got a weird one. This teenager, says his whole family burned up and wants me to investigate for foul play."

Instantly, the cop in him came out. "When? Who?"

"Years ago, and I dunno. He gave me a stack of stuff to read." I swirled the ice in my glass, wishing I could drink something stronger than tea. This case was going to be rough, no matter what it led to, and even if I drank under normal circumstances, I wouldn't be able to for the next month. "I flipped through it. There's pictures."

Mumen winced sympathetically. "Saitama," he said gently, "this isn't a job for a private investigator."

"That's what I told the kid! But he was insistent. And... intense." The memory of his eyes on me made me glad I'd opted for a cold drink.

"What are you going to do?"

"Poke around. What can I do? I'll see if the method raises any flags, check out the usual suspects. I hate to tell the kid, but I'll have to investigate his dad." I looked sideways at Mumen. "You could always run a quick search for me."

Mumen sighed, picking a couple of noodles out of his bowl and dropping them on the floor for Rover to slurp up. "I can't, Saitama, you know that."

"I know." Offering to pay him, or owe him a favor, would only make him upset. "Will everyone stop feeding my dog?"

"Everyone?" Mumen repeated. He knew how picky Rover was.

"That kid today, Genos, he gave Rover some baloney."

"And he took it?"

"Yeah, Rover loved him." I bent down to scratch Rover above his highest eyes, and he thumped his tail happily. "Yeah, we're talking about you."

"That's significant, don't you think? Given what Rover is."

"He just doesn't like assholes or phonies. And most people are one or the other. Hell, I'm an asshole, but he makes an exception for me because I'm his mom."

"Saitama, if this boy's family really was murdered... What do you think he'll do?"

I shook my head. "I wish I could say I don't know. But I do. He'll try to get revenge. He'll kill them. Or, more likely, get himself killed trying."

"And you took the case anyway?"

I shrugged. "If I didn't, he'd go to someone else, and either waste his money, or find what he's looking for and end up bloody, one way or the other. Besides, Rover liked him. I owe it to him to try and stop him from making a mistake."

Mumen put some money on the counter, only for his meal, but he left a tip for both of us. "Promise me you'll be careful?"

I considered a joke, but Mumen's concern was coming from a good place. "I promise."

 


 

It was a late night reading the evidence Genos had compiled the last four years. He was detailed, and thorough, and had nicer handwriting even with those mods than I did. But I could see why the kid needed a professional; he didn't even realize the type of gun he was describing was a typical police service pistol.

Which was a good thing, too, because with that piece of knowledge on top of the fact they'd refused to investigate and brushed aside his concerns, the kid probably would have tried to take out the whole department.

It didn't mean as much as all that, though. It was a typical service pistol because it was sturdy and reliable, it wasn't like only cops carried them. And there could be any number of reasons for the lack of follow up. Maybe the killer covered his tracks just that well. Maybe it was a mob hit, and the police were bought out. Maybe Genos dreamed the whole thing (though with all this detail, it was unlikely).

I put it all back in order as best I could and went to bed around midnight, Rover curled up on my feet. But the pictures haunted me, especially the way the edges were curled. Like they'd been handled a lot, for a long time.

 


 

I arrived at the office on time for once, although any time is on time when you're your own boss. The hours posted in the lobby were more like a suggestion as far as I was concerned. I was only a little surprised to find Genos waiting for me in the hall, back straight, briefcase bulging in his hand. He was wearing a different suit today, dark blue, complementing his complexion.

"I guess you were serious about following me while I work."

"Of course I was, detective."

Keys in hand, I raised a finger. "Okay, first things first, you gotta stop calling me 'detective.'"

"Why? You're licensed, aren't you?"

"Yeah, and up to date even, which is a bitch and a half, let me tell you. But if we've gotta go where I think we do, and somebody overhears you calling me that, they're gonna think you mean police detective, and I'm gonna get shot. I'm not getting shot for you, kid."

"I understand, sir," he said. He popped his briefcase as I opened the door and produced a little notebook and golf pencil. To my horror, he wrote down what I'd said, and I spotted my name on the previous page too.

Holy shit this kid was wound tight. I'd never met anyone who needed a good lay so desperately.

I tried to ignore the logical progression of that thought, instead sweeping the remains of past cases off my desk and into my already overstuffed file cabinet

"Have you considered digitizing, sir?" Genos asked, picking up a photo gingerly between finger and thumb.

"I am digitized. Everything's backed up twice over. But for the cases I usually get, physical evidence is best."

"Like this?" He held out the photo, his lips delicately twisted in disdain.

"Oh, the Raymond divorce." I took it and shoved it in with the others. There was a whole film roll of both Raymonds screwing around at the love hotel on Ninth. This particular picture involved Mrs. Raymond and a curvy redhead apparently having an excellent time. "They're idiots but it was a good paycheck. Life tip, Genos: if you're cheating on your spouse, don't hire a private dick to prove your spouse is also cheating. Especially not if you have the same taste in women."

"They both paid you?"

"Mister paid me to follow his wife. Which I did, and found his mistress was cheating too. With the wife. Now you'd think the logical solution is talk things out and agree to share your girlfriend, but no, they started bidding on the pictures. Like I'm running an auction house instead of a detective business. And Missus tried to sneak a virus into my cloud to wipe out everything. That's why you have hard copies, kid. And copies of the hard copies."

Genos was taking notes again. "But you still got paid?"

"Hey, I did the job. And Missus ended up paying me to prove Mister was lying to the girlfriend about his income so she'd sign a pre-nup."

"That sounds... complicated."

"Keep copies of everything, never renege on a deal, Genos. All there is to it." Satisfied with the state of my desk, I dropped into my chair and started laying out the notes Genos had given me last night. "Let's get to work. I want all those details you tried to give me yesterday."

Genos frowned a little. "Would you like me to be concise, sir?"

"Not at all. The more you remember the better. Oh, wait." I leaned my phone against the desk lamp and set it to record. “Okay, go."

Genos took a deep breath. "Four years ago, when I was fifteen..."

Chapter Text

We spent about five hours going over Genos' recollections and the evidence he'd collected. There was a pretty clear thread going through it all, especially considering what I discovered when I looked up some info on G Village, where it all took place.

In the couple years after Genos lost his family, the small town had been consumed in gang warfare, until 90% of the population was either dead or moved out. All that remained now were the stubborn ones who wouldn't abandon their home. That kind of violence, in that kind of place, pointed to something I wish I was less familiar with.

But Genos didn't need to know that quite yet.

"Whoof. Kid, kinda looks like your family was just an early casualty."

Genos shook his head firmly. "Someone came to my home and shot my father. They burned the house to cover their tracks. I know it."

"I believe you kid, but it could still be related."

Genos looked me dead in the eyes, his amber ones somehow even sharper than usual. His shoulders raised, and I knew what he was going to say before he said it. "My dad wasn't a criminal!"

I didn't reply, just let him reflect.

Almost immediately, the heat drained away, leaving him flushed and flustered. "I mean, I don't believe my father was involved in any of that sort of business, sir. He was a pharmacist. He worked hard and he was devoted to his family."

"Hey." I held my hands up, surrendering to his greater knowledge. "There's plenty of reasons gangsters might want to kill a guy. It doesn't mean he was involved in it."

"Right..." Genos settled down, reminding me of Rover when he got agitated. "Right. I'm sorry, sir."

It was past noon now, and we'd been locked in my little stuffy office since eight. Tensions were high even without the close quarters. It was no wonder Genos had gotten a little testy.

As if on cue, Rover hopped down from his bed in the empty wall safe and stuck his head in my lap. He whuffled a little and nosed at my hand.

"Hey buddy, what's happening?"

Rover whuffled again, my addled mind finally recognizing the noise he made when he decided it was lunch time. A good plan, for a dog. All I'd had for breakfast was some plain bread; my toaster gave up the ghost weeks ago, and I couldn't justify a replacement when I was barely keeping the lights on

"Hey," I said to Genos, "how about lunch?"

"Yes, sir. I brought sandwiches, if you'd like one?"

"Nah, let's get out of the office. It's good to step away from things, clear your mind. Sometimes stuff will connect when you're not thinking about it." I leaned back in my chair and stretched, one of the buttons on my vest escaping its hole as I did. When I looked up, Genos was writing furiously. "What do you want to eat?"

"I don't have a preference, sir, I'm not picky."

"Yeah but what do you feel like? It's your dime."

The kid looked confused by the question. "Whatever you want, sir."

"You are killing me, kid."

Rover whined and headed for the door, apparently unhappy the humans were taking so long. I grabbed my hat and followed him.

"Come on then, boss says break time."

This part of the year the middle of the day was the only time the fog cleared up, so the streets were glistening with moisture in the beams of sunlight making their way through the clouds. No one had lit up their neon yet, although I could see Tatsumaki setting up through the lobby windows, and steered Genos clear of her line of sight.

I felt surprisingly good, and it had been a while since I took Rover for some exercise. Not that he needed it. He only changed size when he ate things that... weren't food. "I'll take you to the deli I like. It's a ways, though." Halfway through a step, the sound of Genos walking reminded me. "Uh... if you can? I mean. I don't know what your situation is with your legs and all."

Genos was blushing again when I turned to him. "It's fine, sir."

"I mean it. Don't push yourself to look tough."

"I'm not. With my mods, I have a higher endurance than an unmodified person."

"Yeah? Good for you." Usually the mods for people who had lost limbs were a lot more workhorse and a lot less ubermensch. The kid's wardrobe was worth more than my rent, too, and the briefcase had his initials discreetly engraved on the clasp in gold. He had money.

We walked along, soaking up the sunshine, Rover stopping to sniff whatever caught one of his eyes. Genos stuck close by my side, close enough that our hands brushed sometimes. I wasn't sure whether he could feel it.

The deli was down by the docks, frequented by the folks who worked there or were just passing through. As such, it was the perfect spot to sit and people-watch for a while... or wait for a particular people.

I had Rover wait outside; the owner knew us, but it was one of those 'if I let one dog in I have to let every dog,' and blah blah. He'd give me the leg bone of some poor animal and Rover would be happy.

With a couple plates and the soup of the day, I stationed Genos by the window where I could look over his shoulder while we talked without it being obvious. He tucked his briefcase between his chair and the wall, a paranoid gesture that I approved of.

"What's in that thing, anyway?"

"Sir?"

"Your bag. You hardly let go of it."

"Everything I brought with me."

I nearly choked on my soup, which would have been a shame because it was potato cream, and too good to be wasted.

"You fit clothes in there?"

"I only brought two outfits. One's being cleaned while I wear the other."

"Oh my god." I rubbed my forehead. "Kid, please tell me you didn't just pack up and come here without a plan."

Genos was tellingly silent.

"No, okay, no, I get it. For some reason you think I can help you, and-"

"My grandfather," Genos blurted. I looked up, and saw him staring out the window. "He wants me to stop."

"Grandfather?"

"My mom- mother's father. They'd drifted apart. He took me in, after..." Genos rubbed one arm, just above the elbow. "He's a scientist. A cybernetics specialist. At- at first he supported my investigations, but recently he started saying it would be better for us both to drop it."

That raised some red flags. "You know why?"

"No. It seemed to happen all of a sudden."

More flags. "Did uh... did someone come to talk to him, the day he changed his mind?"

Genos tilted his head in confusion, looking more like Rover than ever. "A lot of people visited him at home. He's very well-respected in his field."

"Right." I could be wrong. I wanted to be wrong. If I was right, this went deeper than I'd thought.

"Can I ask you something, sir?"

The question caught me off guard, so wrapped up in worries. "Uh, sure?"

"What is Rover?" Genos glanced out the window again, and I realized from where he was he could probably see Rover's head sticking out of the alley.

"Very good question. I'd like an answer myself." I enjoyed my soup for a moment while that sunk in.

"Sir? You don't know?"

"Kinda just found him. Early on, like my third ever job, I got hired to find evidence a research lab was doing some illegal junk. Gengineering humans, that sort of thing. Didn't actually find any, because the place blew up while I was on my way there. That's where I got Rover."

Genos' eyes were wide as they slowly drifted to the side, where Rover no doubt sat, innocent as a dog should be. "He's an illegal genetic modification?"

"Yeah, probably." I shrugged. "I need a refill. You want some coffee?"

"No, thank you sir. I don't drink it." His eyes didn't move. "Is he... dangerous?"

"Never has been. Loyal though, and smart. I guess I could order him to attack someone, but I wouldn't. I don't send a dog to do something I won't do myself." I started to push my chair back. "Got some party tricks, but other than those eyes, he's always been like a regular dog."

"That you picked up out of the rubble of a research lab and took home."

"Yeah."

Genos turned to me, his mouth pulling into a smile. "You're something else, aren't you sir?"

"Don't know what you're talking about, kid."

 


 

After lunch we took a walk around the docks, Genos following me without question. Rover had his bone and was trotting on my other side, as always. If I didn't know exactly where we were going, this would be a nice afternoon.

"Hate to do it to you, kid, but I need answers from someone who isn't going to like that I brought company."

"My terms were clear."

"They were, but if I can't even get in to see her, it won't make a difference." I glanced at him. He was clenching his metal fists so tightly I could hear the rubber creak in the joints. "Just follow my lead, all right? Maybe it won't be so bad."

The building, a stately white boat house with room for two trawlers and offices along the top, rose ahead of us. A short distance away was a matching warehouse, large men moving in and out, no one looking in our direction. The glossy black car parked near the boat house told me she was in.

I tilted my hat back on my head. "How do I look?"

Genos pressed his lips together for a moment, eyebrows drawing together, as if waging an internal battle. "Here." He reached out and straightened my tie, and re-tilted the hat.

"Thanks, Genos."

The goons in black suits gave us a careful once-over as we approached. The bigger one recognized me, though I didn't remember him, as I could tell by the way he didn't try and stop me from walking in. The littler one stepped forward, hand held toward my chest.

"You got business here?"

"Just a social call." I smiled at him. "Tell the donna Saitama's here."

"Don't bother," the bigger one said to his partner. "She'll make him wait a while, but she'll see him." To me, he jerked his head toward the door and said, "Go on in."

"Thanks, man."

No one said anything about Genos, or Rover, who gave the goons a perfunctory growl as he passed. We'd been here often enough that Rover knew to wait by the bottom of the stairs, curling up to work on his bone. I could see it starting to splinter already.

"Sir," Genos asked quietly. "Who are we visiting?"

"Fubuki. Local mafia."

He nearly missed a step.

"Look, I know what I'm doing. Mostly. And she's been trying to recruit me to join her for years, she'll give me the answers if I owe her a favor."

"Do you want to owe her a favor?" Genos hissed. "What if she asks you to kill someone?"

I shrugged. "Hasn't yet."

We were up by the offices now, one of them belonging to the poor sap who ran the legitimate part of the business, and one belonging to Fubuki herself. That one had the shades drawn and more goons standing outside. I could just barely hear Fubuki inside talking to someone, slightly drowned out by the noise of the harbor.

One of the goons sighed as soon as he saw me. "Social call or business?"

"Social."

He waved at a plush bench against the railing overlooking the boats. Only one was docked, some heavy shipping containers being slowly loaded on board. Genos and I took a seat, and Genos watched them move the cans while I leaned back and tried to look casual.

After five minutes Genos' fingers were twitching. I knew he wanted to get out his notebook, but thankfully he knew better. Taking notes in the middle of a "legitimate business" was a good way to get thrown into the harbor. After another five he was shifting in his seat, so I elbowed him lightly to get his attention (and immediately regretted it, his arm was as metallic as his hands).

"So hey. You seen those new widgits? The ones that go on your wrist?"

"The datacuffs, sir? What about them?"

"What do they even do?"

"Much the same as a standard data platform, I believe sir. My phone functions well enough for what I need it, so I haven't looked into them."

"I kinda break my phones a lot. Think the cuff one would last longer?"

"I doubt it. Besides, the screen is too small to-"

"Okay," the head goon snapped, lowering his hand from his ear. Fubuki still had them wearing the old clunky earpieces, so everyone would be able to tell they were in constant contact. "She'll see you now."

I nodded and stood, and Genos followed my lead, until the goon put a hand out to stop us.

"Patdown first."

"Aw what? Really? You know I don't need any of that."

"I don't make the rules, chromedome."

I sucked in a breath. This guy... he wasn't new. He knew me. He knew better. I clenched my hands tightly, felt the tendons in my forearms twitch as I pulled back-

"Sir?"

Genos' voice cut through the red mist. I shook my head to clear out the last of it. That was a close one, and after today had been going so well. "Uh. Yeah?"

"I'm... If they pat me down, they'll..."

"Oh." I jerked my thumb toward him. "The kid's mostly metal. Not a problem, right?"

Both goons frowned, and the lead one said, "How do you mean mostly?"

"I mean don't be a dick, he's been through a lot, and now he's mostly metal." They stared at me. "It's not weapons! He's missing his goddamn parts."

The quieter one turned away, pressing his earpiece and whispering something. After a moment, he nodded.

"Okay, you can both go in."

And just like that, we'd skipped out on the patdown. I hadn't thought it would be so easy. I took a second to smooth down my vest pockets and fasten all the buttons, the goons smirking like they knew what I was thinking, and then we walked in.

Fubuki was sitting behind her desk, a new one, dark wood and silver accents, complementing her own dark hair and sharp green eyes. She had a fur coat draped over her chair, and a cigar smoldering in the ash tray. It was only barely burned down, easy enough to accomplish in the ten minutes we'd been waiting. She'd lit it for me.

"Saitama."

"Donna Fubuki." I gave her a nod. "Thank you for seeing us."

"Who's the kid?"

"Helping me with a case. I did say it was a social call."

She leaned back and picked up the cigar, tucking her arm under her chest as she took a drag. It was a nice display, I won't lie, but the effect was marred when she choked a little and stubbed it out.

"If you're not here to accept my offer, I don't see what we have to talk about."

"You heard about what happened to G Village?"

She shrugged, both arms folded, but I kept my eyes north. "I heard. Lots of people heard. That was years ago."

"You know anything about it?"

"About a couple of small-time gangs fighting over a smaller-time town? No, I don't know a thing."

"Gangs fighting in a place like that means something. Maybe you don't know, but maybe your sister does."

Fubuki laughed. "Sweetheart, the day you get answers out of my sister is the day there's a blizzard in hell."

"All I'm asking is for a clue."

"Sure, fine, you want a clue?" She picked up the cigar again. "You're not wrong. There's your clue."

"That's enough." I stood, tipped my hat, and again Genos followed my lead. "Just... one more thing?"

"What?"

"You ever hear of a man called Wakahisa Mori?"

She said nothing for a moment, driving the cigar harder into the ashtray until it was split and ruined.

"No."

"Okay. Thanks, Fubuki."

We left without another word, Rover joining us at the bottom of the stairs, and Genos always just a step behind. Once we were outside, I sighed and shoved my hands in my pockets.

"I need a smoke."

The bigger goon snickered.

"Not like that! She'd cut it off if I tried."

"And wouldn't I like to see it."

A loud crack echoed across the pavement as Rover finally snapped his bone in two. Both goons jumped, and I grinned at the one I'd been talking to. "What's the matter, big guy? Afraid of dogs?"

"That's not a dog."

"I think he was made from a dog."

The goon waved us off. "Get out of here! Or I'll see to it the Donna doesn't have any use for you."

I headed back the way we came, fishing out my phone and turning off the record function I'd managed to discreetly start before we went into Fubuki's office. If the goons had patted me down they would have confiscated it, but thanks to Genos, I had a reference to work with.

We were well out of earshot before Genos spoke, and his voice was so strained I knew he'd been holding back for a while.

"Mr. Saitama, I don't understand anything that just happened."

"Yeah, that's okay."

"Who was that woman? Why were you so familiar with her? Why did you ask her about the gang war in G Village, if you believe me that it had nothing to do with my family's deaths? Why did you tell her my father's name?"

"I told you already, she's the daughter of a mob boss. She wanted to join the family business, so he gave her a few things to run. Small-time, but she's a good source of information. Sometimes." I sighed. "Life tip, Genos: hell hath no fury like a woman you really shouldn't have slept with."

The metal in his legs clanked as he tripped over the planks of the pier. "You- You- Her?"

"It was a long time ago. Back when I was still boxing, and she was still a spoiled princess instead of a donna. But she remembers me fondly I guess, and she wants me to work for her as an enforcer."

I could feel the heat radiating off him. Those sharp amber eyes pierced into the fabric of my vest, until I was worried it was going to start to smoulder.

"To answer your other questions, I asked her about G Village because I knew it would get her off guard." Lie. "And I mentioned your father specifically, because if it was a hit by her father's organization, she'd tell me." A lie on both counts. "But don't worry, we're narrowing things down. I know where to go next."

"Her sister?"

"Oh god no. Tatsumaki will absolutely kill me if I try to use her for information."

"You didn't sleep with her too, did you?" Genos grumbled.

Even aside from the fact that he had no claim on me, the question didn't deserve an answer (and didn't have the one he wanted), so I ignored it. "Thing is, kid, your town was small. Very small. There's no good reason for a gang to fight over it, unless there was money in it somehow."

"And?"

"And Fubuki's father runs the weapons smuggling around here. What he doesn't run is the drugs."

Genos took a couple long strides to keep pace with me. "Drugs? You think that's what the war was about?"

"It's only a working theory so far. But if a particular type of prescription was getting more common, or if somebody tried to steal a shipment, a pharmacist like your dad would notice, right?"

His eyes were wide, hopeful, like liquid honey in the last of the afternoon sun. "You think my father tried to turn them in? And that's why?"

"It's just a theory."

We walked a while longer, until Rover stuck his nose in my knee, and I turned to see Mumen riding by on his bike. I waved, but he didn't wave back, focused on the road.

"Who's that?"

"Friend of mine. I'll introduce you some time."

"You're friends with a cop?" The disdain in his voice burned nearly as hot as the jealous righteousness had.

"Hey, you can't judge the whole basket by a few bad apples." I paused. "I mean, okay, around here it's more like a basket of rotten mush that used to be apples, and one or two good ones, but still."

I stopped and looked at Genos, really taking him in, for the first time all day. His hair was drooping in his eyes, his suit was starting to look lived-in, and he'd been falling behind while we walked. The stoic look on his face had been replaced by a frown etching itself into premature lines around his eyes. It wasn't long since lunch, but I figured that was enough footwork for now.

"Let's go back to the office. I can do some more research and make some calls."

"Yes sir, if you think that's best."

"I do."

Chapter Text

It was a long day, and in the end it didn't feel like we accomplished much. Genos was frustrated, tapping his metal fingers on my desk while I researched statistics, pacing in the hall when I shooed him out to make a phone call, joining Rover in staring at me plaintively after the sun went down and office hours closed.

"Mr. Saitama, don't we have any leads?"

"Not at the moment. I'm following a thread, but we can't discount the possibility your dad just made a personal enemy, nothing to do with any of this."

"But... if that's the case..." His lips, soft and full, pressed together. "There's no way to find out. Everyone in my village who might know something is gone."

"Not everyone. I think we'll have to go there eventually. But we can follow this for now." I brought up some charts on my datapad. "The big money's in stims, but those've been on the downswing the last couple years. Since G Village went up in both literal and metaphorical flames. If a gang was trafficking them through there; out of the way but still connected to major roads, lots of places in the woods to cook without being noticed, small easily-bribable police force, it makes sense both for the violence to escalate, and the supply to dwindle when it all fell apart."

Genos nodded, seriously taking it in. "And you think my father was killed by the gang doing it?"

"It all fits. That's why they burned your house too. Not to cover their tracks, to send a message."

He nodded again, slowly. "But we have no proof."

"Not yet."

It was a neat explanation, very neat, exactly the kind of thing that would satisfy his curiosity without soiling his opinion of his parents. And anyone responsible was long dead, so he couldn't run off and throw himself headlong into revenge.

I hoped we found enough to convince him.

I glanced at my pad, hitting a couple buttons to pretend I wasn't just checking the time. "Listen, it's getting late. Where are you staying, anyway?"

"Hotel, a few blocks north. The Grand Meridian."

"That place? They've filmed movies there! I can't even afford to look at it for too long." If he was in such swanky digs, then... "Wait, then why are you carrying all your stuff with you?"

Genos reached down and touched his bag under his seat, reminding himself it was there. "I feel safer this way."

Paranoid. Even in the type of hotel that had a private dick on staff.

"Well, you should head back, take it easy for tonight."

"But sir, I thought we were going to talk to someone else? You said you knew where to go next."

Crap, I had said that. "We can go tomorrow. It'll be a late night, so get plenty of rest."

I could see the little creases between his eyebrows as he tried not to scowl. "I'm not a child, sir. At the moment, I'm your boss."

I'd been wondering when he was going to play that card. "You're paying me for my expertise, and I know from experience that you want to be at the top of your game when you go to a bar for work purposes."

He perked up. "A bar?"

I'd said too much. We were only a day in to the case, and this kid already wasn't happy with the progress. If I gave him a lead, he'd try to investigate it himself, I was sure.

"Tomorrow, kid." Rover agreed with me, padding to the door and whining.

Reluctantly, slowly, Genos picked up his bag and the originals of the evidence he'd brought. We'd made copies, digital and paper, and I gathered those up to look like I was heading out too. I had no choice but to walk with him down to the street to keep up the illusion.

"Goodnight, sir."

"Night, kid."

I waited till he turned a corner, then rushed back upstairs before my appointment arrived, or worse, Tatsumaki saw me.

 

It wasn't long before Rover sat up and growled at the door. I could see the massive shadow across the frosted glass of my door, but waited to see if he'd work up the nerve on his own for a few minutes, before I called, "It's open!"

King was carrying takeout in one hand and a backpack in the other, juggling them as he opened the door. He set the food on my desk and hugged the bag to his chest, eyes carefully avoiding Rover's corner.

Rover didn't like phonies, and King was the biggest one I knew, quite literally. He was tall and broad, and his clothes hid the complete lack of muscle he had to back that up. For all his flaws, and they were many, he knew that when you looked like that, there were expectations. Even I'd bought into it the first couple times we met.

Maybe that was why he ended up working for the police. He wasn't a cop, just a techie of some flavor, but working in a building full of dudes with guns kept him safe from anybody who might jump to conclusions and try to prove something by challenging him.

"Thanks for coming."

"Thanks for buying dinner," he said, pointedly, and I dug out a couple bills and handed them over.

Rover settled down enough that King felt comfortable taking a seat, and we split the food with minimal bickering over egg rolls. I let him complain about work until I was done eating.

King was the only other member of local law enforcement that I trusted, and I couldn't really call him "clean." He was a coward, plain and simple, and if his appearance didn't fool everyone else he would crack like an egg anytime someone wanted something from him. But he didn't take bribes, and he wouldn't fake evidence, and he never used his position for personal gain. Because he was too awkward to know how.

I called him a friend, because we had some hobbies in common, and I think he felt he owed me for saving his life once, years ago. I couldn't even remember it. But when I needed information, and I knew I couldn't get it from Mumen, King would do it for the price of dinner.

"So what's up?" he asked, finally taking the hint. "You only want to meet at your office when you need something."

So he'd picked up on that. "It'll be easy. I just want you to look for a name."

He shifted uncomfortably, not just because Rover was growling at the dumpling King had tried to feed him. "That's not really my department, you know? If I get caught looking into records..."

"Just bluff your way through. Say a sergeant told you to match some blood splatter or something."

"I'm not CSI, Saitama."

"Whatever you do, then. Computer stuff." I took a sheet from my base file for the case. "This guy. Wakahisa Mori."

"Who is he?"

"According to his son, nobody. But that's why I want to know more."

The lines in King's face deepened, and his heartbeat sped up until I could hear it across the desk.

"He's dead, if that helps."

"Why would that help?"

"I don't know how you think, King."

After some more conversation and convincing, King folded, as I knew he would. It was testament to our friendship that he was brave enough to argue at all.

"Anything else?" he asked, resigned.

"Actually, yeah." I took out my phone. "Do you know how to edit a sound file?"

 



Genos made a token effort at listening to my suggestion, which meant he showed up at my office five minutes after I did, instead of already waiting for me. I suspected he'd been watching from across the street, but it wasn't worth debating.

"What are we doing today, sir?"

"Phone calls and charts, kiddo, the most glamorous parts of the job."

Rover trotted up to be petted, and nosed at his hand with his whuffling "food time" noise. I frowned.

"Did you eat breakfast, kid?"

"Um. No. Sir. I don't sometimes, it's not a big deal."

"It's the most important meal of the day. Come on, let's get you a danish."

The kid grumbled a little about being lectured, but I wrote it off as hunger crankiness. He did perk up after he ate, even if he fed half the pastry to Rover. The rest of the morning passed more or less peacefully. I gave Genos the task of making a yarn chart of the local gun runners and stim dealers, and he took to it like he'd been born to the work. When we left for lunch, my office looked like a crazy person's. More than usual.

Rover took us on the long route through the park, the weather was nice again, and Genos was in a good enough mood to express an opinion about where we ate. For an hour, it almost felt like we were on a date instead of hunting down a murderer.

And then it was back to my office, and the wall of crazy, and the phone ringing off the hook.

I grabbed it mid-ring, and put on my best official voice. "Saitama and Associates, Private Investigation."

"You need to stop," someone hissed. It sounded like a man, but other than that I couldn't identify anything.

"Heard it all before pal, you wanna give me a reason?"

"For his good," the voice said, and hung up.

I dropped into my chair, Genos watching me curiously. Instead of offering any information, I tossed my hat in the direction of the hook by the door, overshooting and bouncing it off the wall.

"Rats."

Genos smiled and picked it up for me, as I knew he would. "Good try, sir."

"Let's get back to it, huh?"

 


 

After I closed the office, I dragged Genos out for another meal. This was the fourth one we'd shared in only two days, if you counted me forcing him to eat breakfast. It was kind of weird; I was so used to eating with just Rover for company, or Mumen on occasion, that looking up and seeing Genos there should have been a shock. But he didn't try to make conversation, though he'd engage whenever I started, and didn't pass judgement on any of my dining choices.

Spending time with him wasn't draining, the way many people were.

Now we had a problem though, and the problem was Genos. I stood him up outside the restaurant and looked him up and down. "This isn't gonna work."

"What isn't, sir?"

"This, your whole deal." I gestured at all of him.

"Sir?"

Without explaining, I tugged at his coat. He followed my indication and shrugged it off, revealing a crisp white button up shirt and a vest in the same fabric as the rest of his suit. His tie was amber, matching his eyes.

"Who dresses you?"

Slightly offended, Genos said, "I do."

"You look like a banker. Like a banker trying to have an affair."

"I... don't understand what you mean, sir."

I ruffled his hair and rolled up his sleeves, the metal of his arms going at least elbow-high. "That's better..." I pursed my lips, considering. "The tie's gotta go."

"I like this tie."

"So do I, but we're going to a dive. The best we can hope for at this point is making you look like you're slumming."

For some reason, that made him blush. "With you?"

"Yeah with me, what did you think? I'm gonna have to talk pretty fast just to get you in there without ID."

"I have ID."

"That says you're nineteen. Doesn't help." He wasn't making any move to ditch the tie, so I started undoing it for him, inevitably triggering more blushing. God only knew why the kid found me so alluring, but it was distracting for both of us.

"I have one that says I'm twenty-two."

My fingers fumbled over the knot, brushing his throat. "You what?"

"I have a fake ID."

I couldn't help it, I burst out laughing. This straight-laced kid, who dressed like someone twice his age, was sneaking into bars and underage drinking. The mental image was like one of those movies where you're supposed to buy a thirty-year-old passing for a high schooler.

"That's amazing. Let me see?"

It was professionally done, looked real enough, and he was as stern as ever in the picture. It even listed his medical status, which was a good idea, as well as... telling. I wasn't one hundred percent on the terminology, but I was pretty sure it said he was over half cyborg.

"This might work." I tucked it back in his pocket for him, making him squeak. "Okay kid, just keep your mouth shut and we might get through this."

 

The place didn't look like much from outside. A small building composed of slabs of concrete plastered with old posters for local bands, long since split up. Neon sputtering and broken, leaving chemical stains down the walls. The only sign that could be read proclaimed "best takoyaki." And I had to admit, it wasn't false advertising.

At some point I thought I'd heard the official name of the bar was "The Octopus's Garden," but everyone who'd heard of it called it "the Doctor's place."

Dr. Genus, for his part, was genuine in wanting to run a legitimate business. He was old, older than he looked, older than even his obviously extensive plastic surgery indicated, but he'd been the leading name in recreational chemicals for so long that his bar attracted a certain crowd, and he took a very zen attitude to it. If you weren't actively killing someone in front of him, Dr. Genus didn't care.

The bouncer was a gorilla of a man, going sleeveless to show off his cybernetics, which were flashy but practical enough to make me think he needed them as much as Genos did. He didn't even blink at our ID's, and I wasn't sure he recognized me from last time until he said, "There's a cover charge if you're not drinking."

I jerked my thumb at Genos. "He'll drink for two."

"Doesn't work like that."

I made a show of grumbling as I got out my wallet, but considering my history with the place, I was lucky they let me in at all. Genos stuck close beside me when we entered, blinking against the smoke. The gloomy lighting was nearly a perfect match to the foggy evening outside, so our eyes didn't need to adjust to that, but there was always a moment of disorientation, and the customers puffing away on cigarettes or joints didn't help.

"Sir," Genos hissed over the music, "you don't drink?"

"Nah," I said. I didn't want to get into it, so I took his arm and steered him toward the bar. "Order a shot and a beer."

"Um, sir-"

"You don't have to drink them, just order them."

"Sir, I don't know what to say."

I stopped mid-step, nearly stumbling into a fellow patron. "Sorry. Genos, what?"

"I've never, um... I'm sorry, sir."

I rubbed my temples. The smoke was already getting to me. "Just a beer then. Pick something on tap."

"Hey!" The guy I'd almost bumped into leaned into my personal space. He was dressed all in black, with a mask pulled over his face, but managing to stand out even more against the dimly lit clouds of smoke. If the voice wasn't so deep I wouldn't have been sure he was a guy. "I knew it was you, Saitama!"

That particular cadence of my name triggered a vague memory. "Oh, uh... hey, dude."

"It's Sonic!"

"Sure."

"You- I've been waiting for our rematch!"

"Not tonight, I've got a headache."

Sonic sputtered something, and reached for a no-doubt weapon on his belt. "This is the last time you'll dismiss me!"

As the blade came toward my face, I prepared to dodge easily, only to bump into Genos' arm. He reached out and caught the knife in his metal hand.

"You won't touch Mr. Saitama while I'm around," Genos growled. I didn't need the protection, but it was the first time someone had tried in...

In...

Ever.

"Who the hell are you?" Sonic demanded. I picked up Genos' discarded coat and started backing up in the direction of the bar. "This is between me and Saitama!"

"I'm between you and Saitama."

I waved at them, taking a few more steps away. "Okay, you guys have fun, I'm gonna order drinks."

"You're not getting away!" Sonic lunged for me, and Genos blocked him with a perfect clothesline. I hadn't expected the kid to know how to fight.

Leaving them to it, I found an empty stool at the bar. Dr. Genus (I was pretty sure he was a legitimate doctor) was making something complicated involving mint leaves and fruit pulp. He ignored any demands for his attention until he was done, delivering the drink to an enormous man in a pink sweatervest.

"Have you considered my offer, doc?" the man purred.

"Considered and rejected. Excuse me." Still ignoring the other customers, he filled a glass with mineral water and handed it to me.

"To what do I owe this courtesy?"

"Keep an eye on that one for me, will you?" he murmured.

I glanced down the bar without turning my head. "The giant?"

"If his hands get near anyone else's glass, toss him out."

"Can do." So the good doctor had some standards after all.

"I assume you're here for a reason."

Not wanting to press my luck, I nodded. "Information. If anyone knows about stim traffic four years ago, it'd be you.

Dr. Genus sighed. "You need to give me more than that."

"G Village. You heard of it?"

"Isn't that the place that had all that gang trouble." He shrugged, and started gathering abandoned glasses from the bar. "I don't know much more than rumors."

"And what are those?"

"That the gangs didn't start the fire, so to speak."

I looked back over my shoulder, seeking out Genos and Sonic in the gloom. They'd knocked over at least one table, and I saw somebody throw a drink at Genos, who dodged the cup but ended up soaked. Sonic stopped to laugh at him, and Genos tackled him into a booth.

At least he was having fun. I was glad he wasn't here to hear the doctor's answers.

"Who did, then?"

"You know rumors, Saitama. The police, rival gangs, the feds. Conspiracy and gossip."

"One more thing. You hear of a guy called Wakahisa Mori?"

"It sounds familiar, but no." He seemed to be telling the truth, so I nodded and settled back with my drink.

It was almost peaceful, aside from my growing headache and the sounds of swearing as Genos and Sonic were finally hauled out. I wasn't the bar type, even aside from drinking, but it was nice sometimes to let humanity wash over me.

After a few minutes I drained my glass and grabbed the giant in pink by his sleeve. "Okay big guy, let's go outside."

He gave me a once-over. "Thanks honey, but you're not my type."

"I'm heartbroken." I yanked him to his feet, surprise making it even easier.

"You- how-"

"He put something in your drink," I told the blond he'd been talking to. The guy dropped his cup in horror.

Over the giant's protests, I dragged him outside. He was strong as he looked, strong enough to put up a decent resistance, which was probably why Genus had asked me to watch him. His bouncers were tough, but I could handle anything.

Outside, I shoved him into the alley with the idea of teaching him a lesson, but I found Genos and Sonic still fighting. They'd broken another neon sign, a couple of Sonic's knives were stuck into the wall, and it looked like Genos had actually borrowed one and cut off Sonic's bun.

"Wow," the giant breathed. I shut him up with a quick jab to the nose.

"Okay that's enough!" I snapped. "Genos, this is beneath you. Sonic, I'm too busy for you, but I'll try to make time to beat you up next week." I shoved the giant into some trash cans. "Don't talk to that guy, he's a dangerous predator. Come on Genos."

Cowed, Genos followed me. I didn't expect Sonic to give up so quickly, but maybe he'd had a few drinks and knew he was outmatched.

Of course, he was outmatched sober, but he pretended he didn't know.

"I'm sorry, sir," Genos sounded sullen rather than truly apologetic. His shirt was stained with beer and blood, his vest had half the buttons torn off, and more blood was dripping from his nose. But he was vibrating with excitement, breathing hard, his eyes so bright they looked like molten gold. It was hard to stay mad at him.

"Felt good, huh?"

He had the grace to look embarrassed. "Sir?"

"Letting all that out? I bet you've been holding it in for a while."

He was flushed from exertion, but he managed to turn even redder. "I... may have some pent-up anger."

"I get it." I felt myself smile, though it wasn't exactly a happy emotion bubbling up inside me. "I used to get it, all the time. When I first started boxing, I..." The feeling, that gray sucking emptiness I worked so hard to avoid, threatened to choke me off. I didn't realize I'd stopped talking until Genos took my arm. "Uh."

"I'm sorry, sir."

"You didn't do anything, kid."

"No, I just mean..." He squeezed my arm a little. His metal fingers were sturdy and warm through my sleeve. "I wish I could help."

Was it that obvious? "It's okay kid, getting in bar fights is a rite of passage."

He didn't correct me, and I didn't let on. But we walked like that, arm-in-arm, all the way back to his hotel. My phone buzzed with text alerts a couple of times, but I didn't bother answering.

The Grand Meridian was just as swank as I remembered. The facade was pristine, the doorman looked like a professional silver fox, and there were bushes in the shape of giant vases with flowers spilling from the tops. By contrast, Genos reeked of booze and smoke, and there was still blood on his lip from where he'd wiped it.

"You should probably go through the back," I recommended.

"Why? I'm staying here." He hesitated, hand tightening on my arm. "Did you... want to come up?"

I pulled away, ignoring the question. "You're a mess, kid. You look like a wino."

"Oh. Right." He was blushing again. "Thank you sir."

"Huh? For what?"

"For everything. For tonight." He grinned, blood on his teeth. "It was fun."

I wanted to kiss him, I wanted it so bad I actually swayed forward. Luckily, he was looking down at the bloodstains on his vest, and my phone buzzed again to draw me out of my fit of madness.

This was more texts than I usually got in a whole day, much less the walk from one part of town to another. The sleazy bars and the classy hotels were closer than you'd think.

"I better go. Rover will be worried."

"Okay. Goodnight, sir."

I watched him walk around the building, taking my advice, and leaned against a giant decorative pillar while I checked my messages.

"Shit."

 


 

King was waiting in the hall outside my office when I got there. It was nearly midnight now, but the lobby was open for those seeking psychic wisdom, so I didn't wonder how he'd gotten in.

"That fortune teller downstairs tried to talk to me," he hissed. "She scares me."

"That's the healthy response to Tatsumaki, don't worry." I unlocked my office and let us in, Rover happy enough to see me that he ignored King entirely.

He pulled a folded print-out from his jacket pocket, a standard file, fingerprints, mugshot. From the date, this was about thirty years ago, before Genos was even an idea. He looked a lot like his father, apparently, although the face in the mugshot had some stubble and the beginnings of a black eye. Kind of hot, I admitted to myself.

"Only one arrest," King said, as I skimmed the same information. "And he was released a few hours later."

"So maybe he was just a regular guy?"

King leaned over and pointed at a column I couldn't decipher. "Except regular guys don't get brought in for questioning over a hundred times in a single decade."

I looked at the list of dates, shaking my head. "Do you know what this was about?"

"Not the questions, but the arrest was for, um, multiple homicide."

Rover whined, as I took a deep steadying breath. Not so attractive anymore. "An arrest isn't a conviction."

"No. And this was all a long time ago. Maybe he went straight."

"Maybe. Maybe not." In a village teeming with drug money? Unlikely. "Thanks, King. Really. This is a big help."

He glanced at the door. "Saitama? If that kid's dad was-"

"Don't," I said. "That's my problem, not yours."

We both jumped at the sharp rap on the door. King met my eyes, sweat beading along his brow. I was sweating too, but only because I recognized the knock. It was too angry and too low to be anyone else.

"Just a sec," I called. I picked Rover up and shoved him in the wall safe, while King watched me in utter bafflement. "He doesn't mind. He naps in here sometimes."

"But why are you doing it?"

"Oh. Rover thinks Tatsumaki is a big cat or something. He hates her more than anyone else."

"T- Tatsu- The fortune teller?" King exclaimed, sheer terror on his face.

She banged on the door again. "I can hear you!"

"I'm locking up my dog, you should be grateful!"

"That's not a dog!"

I yanked open the door and looked down into her piercing green eyes. They were different from her little sister's, even sharper, filled with the kind of emotion that might bubble over into violence at any moment. A lot like Genos' amber ones, I noted.

It was possible I had a type.

"I need to talk to you." She shoved her way inside, dismissing King with a single glance. "About your client."

"The kid? He hasn't done anything to anyone."

"Maybe not, but he looks like someone who did." She tilted her head to the side, curls falling across her forehead. "Fubuki told me who you were asking about."

"She did, huh?" As far as I knew, Tatsumaki had no idea I'd dated her sister a few years before I was with her. It was best for my continued health that it stayed that way.

"She doesn't remember meeting Wakahisa, but I do. I remember his face."

I felt the nervous sweat return. "You think someone might target Genos."

"If you keep poking, maybe." She shrugged her slim delicate shoulders. She'd thrown me over those shoulders and through a window when we broke up. "You don't get a name like Machine Gun Mori without making a lot of enemies."

"Machine Gun Mori," I groaned, burying my face in my hands. "Of course. Of course he couldn't just be a drug dealer."

"For what it's worth, Saitama, Wakahisa was popular around here. He worked for my father in some capacity. I was too young to know the details when he left, but the men still tell stories about him."

"They ever mention who killed him?" That would save me a lot of time.

To my dismay, she looked startled. "He's dead?"

"What- Yes! That's why we're investigating, the kid wants to know who killed his family!"

She started chewing on a fingernail. "Could be a lot of people. I mean, if the name is accurate..."

"Thanks, Tatsumaki." I leaned against my desk, rubbing my face. The headache was back, stronger, and Rover was starting to ooze out of the safe. "Listen, I know we've had our differences-"

"You're an asshole."

"Fair enough. But apparently you don't want me dead."

She hesitated. "Not when you pay your rent on time."

"Well, I appreciate you looking out for me."

She stared at me like I'd sprouted a second head. "What is this emotional crap? Are you dying?"

"It's been a weird night."

Suddenly she stepped up close to me. "Are you drunk?"

"I don't drink. You know that."

"You smell like beer."

"I was adjacent to a bar fight. I told you, weird night."

She shook her head, and for some reason King, frozen in fear, caught her eye. "What is it with you and thugs? Does he work for my sister?"

It took considerable effort not to laugh. "No, for the police."

"The roughest gang in town." Tatsumaki gave a little huff and a toss of her hair. "Well, I said my piece. Don't get killed on my property."

"I'm not going to get killed!"

 

It took a few more minutes to get them both out of my office, and a few more to calm Rover down until he solidified. By the time I was on my way home it was past midnight.

In a town like this there were still plenty of businesses open that late, and a few less legitimate ones operating out of vans and street corners. I didn't look twice at the woman in a skintight jumpsuit and bug-eye sunglasses at night, until she said my name.

"A message, from my dad."

"Your dad?" I opened the note, reading it by streetlight. The handwriting reminded me of the "best takoyaki" sign. "Dr. Genus?"

It was just an address. Nothing more. And when I looked up the girl was gone, faster than even I could catch.

Machine Gun Mori, and now this. Two days into the investigation and I had a handful of leads but still no real clues. It was all smoke and no fire.

I thought about Genos, defending his father the pharmacist. Maybe he really had retired. Gone straight, as much as he could, like Dr. Genus. Maybe he'd been a civilian for his son's whole life.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. There was no way to know without asking the man himself. And hell, he probably would have lied.

Rover stuck his nose in my knee and whined. "I know buddy. Bedtime, right?" I looked out at the foggy street, wondering how far in any given direction I'd have to walk to find a fight. "You know best. Let's go home."

Chapter Text

It was the dream again, the same one as always. I knew it was a dream because the details were wrong, but I could never quite break out of the script.

"I'm sorry, " Fubuki said, on her way out the door. "I had fun?"

I said nothing, just watched her go. As the locker room door swung shut behind that green dress I liked, a trio of black-clad goons pushed it open again.

(In reality, Fubuki dumped me a few days before the fight, and she'd been wearing black. It was in the locker room though, it wasn't been safe for us to meet at my apartment. If her father's men ever realized she was slumming with a boxer, it wouldn't matter whether I toed the line or not. Not that she told me she was a mob daughter before I got involved with her.)

"That was the best you could do?" the lead goon sneered.

"I let him get a few hits in," I said, unable, even in the dream, to keep the disgust from my voice. "That's what you wanted, right?"

"The people want a fight they can sit down and enjoy. That takes longer than a handful of popcorn!"

"Bring me tougher opponents, then." I hadn't felt a challenge in months. Today's sap, some out-of-towner called Boros, had been the first one to last more than a single punch all season. In the dream, I saw his poster on the wall behind the goons, one eye shadowed, staring down at the viewer, at me.

"If you can't put on a show when you win, then maybe you should start losing."

I felt my blood go cold in my veins. "I followed orders. I did what you asked."

"You followed the letter, but not the spirit, kid." He stepped forward and clapped a hand on my bare shoulder. "We're trying to run a business here. You're bad for it."

"I won't throw fights," I said, my voice as cold as I felt.

"You agreed to that bonus to let Boros hit you easy enough. Think of it as changing careers. You're not an athlete any more, you're an entertainer. They earn more."

"I won't throw fights," I said again. But it was harder, like I was forgetting the words.

"Let me make this easy for you." He snapped his fingers and the other two goons pulled out guns. "You do this, or you quit. Those are the only options where you make it out of this room."

I swallowed the stomach acid rising in my throat. "I quit."

He laughed and patted my cheek. Then stepped back and let one of the goons hit me with his gun. It sent me sprawling, despite the force behind it being half what I could put in.

In the dream, I curled up and let it happen, helpless. In reality, I'd tried to fight back, which of course made it worse. I was stronger than them, but with the two armed with guns, and the head goon pulling out a set of brass knuckles, even I fell to the assault.

For a while I'd been afraid they were going to kill me anyway.

Then things went fuzzy, and the next thing I remembered was a face obscured by the blood in my eyes. "Saitama?"

"Mumen."

(In reality, I didn't meet Mumen until he came to take my statement, "I fell," the next day. But in the dream he was always there right after the beating.)

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "This is the only thing I'm good at."

"You're strong enough, you have options."

"I don't know," I said, again. "I don't know."

(I'd repeat it, in the dream, until I woke up. In reality, Mumen had helped me find a bodyguard job, which led to helping my clients with their personal issues, which led to my private eye business.)

"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know."

 


 

I woke up with Rover's slobber on my face, a fact more pressing than it would be if he was a normal dog. "Agh! Are you trying to blind me?"

He whuffled for food, and I stumbled to the bathroom to wash my face before I got a rash. It was early, but I didn't want to sleep any more. Probably couldn't if I tried.

I threw on some clothes that were slightly less wrinkled than yesterday's and the heavy trench coat I inherited with the office. It was older than I was, and not even the dry cleaners could get the smell of cigars out, but it was warm and dry. Everything would be dripping with mist until the sun burned it off.

I left Rover behind, to great protest, and walked the gray dawn streets until I could hear sea birds. The address Genus' daughter had passed along wasn't far from the docks, close enough that forklifts were running between the two even at this ungodly hour.

There was a pack of smokes in the trench coat that I tried to forget about. It took three matches to light one, the air was so damp, but once it was lit I stood in an alley and watched the small warehouse until the sun was fully risen.

Just a warehouse. Like any other. Not even a big one. But it was the only lead we had, and if we went more than a day without progress, Genos was likely to get antsy.

 


 

"A stakeout?"

"For now," I said. I pushed the egg sandwich a little closer to his side of the desk, and Genos continued to ignore it. "It'll take two or three days to figure out the schedule of that place, and I can't just not sleep for that whole time."

"So... you're trusting me to take half the time?" He brightened up at that, as I knew he would.

"I'll take nights, you take days. I'll be available by phone in case of emergency, and I'll bring you food."

Genos had a few visible bruises from his fight with Sonic, and his right knuckles were bearing tiny scratches on the metal, but his clothes and hair were spotless as ever. I nudged the sandwich closer again, and he finally took it.

"The trouble is finding a place to watch from. I don't have a car, and even if I did there's too much crime down there that we wouldn't be noticed."

"What do we do?" Genos asked around a mouthful of egg and biscuit.

"The good news is I know who owns the building next door. The bad news is we don't see eye-to-eye."

"You know a lot of criminals considering you don't get along with any of them."

"Oh, he's not a criminal. Much worse." I grinned. "He's the mayor."

 


 

Mayor Kamen, like Dr. Genus, was impossible to guess the age of. He looked barely old enough to vote, much less run a whole city.

If the office building had been owned by the city, this would be easier. But no, Amai bought the property after it was seized and put up for auction. Nothing in the law against it, apparently, even if he gave the order for the bust in the first place.

"What was it before?" Genos asked, when I told him the story.

"Shipping company I think. Got in trouble for sneaking around check points."

"That's it? Not drugs? Or guns?"

"Nope, just trying to avoid dock fees."

The mayor was far too busy to see a guy like me, and I didn't have the kind of personal history with him that would let me barge in. I'd done a few jobs for him that were kept off the books, but it wasn't like he owed me a favor, or wanted to hire me like Fubuki did.

So instead of making an appointment, I went "off the books" myself and cornered him in a hair salon.

"This is subtle," he said, eyes fixed on his own reflection. "I'm supposed to buy you happen to be visiting a stylist?"

"Thinking about updating my look," I said, ignoring the dig at my hair. "Maybe get my eyebrows threaded."

"Do you even know what that means?"

"I think we both know I do not."

The poor hairdresser was being distracted by Genos, who was actually attractive and stylish enough to be visiting this place, but lacked the social skills to fake flirt. Frankly, I was surprised he'd kept her occupied this long.

"Look, I need a favor."

"Oh good."

I flipped through the pictures on my phone until I found the office building. "You own this place. I need the keys for two, three days tops."

"And why should I give you those, exactly?"

"I'll owe you a favor."

"I don't need one."

I hesitated. "We'll pay rent. For one office, for three days." I felt kinda bad promising Genos' money without him, but how much could it be?

Amai fingered his bangs thoughtfully. "I can't give you a contract, mind."

"I understand."

Without asking or shame, he took a pen and tore half a page from the appointment book on the hairdresser's station. I nearly choked on spit at the number he wrote down.

"For only three days?"

"That's per day."

I'd deposited the money Genos gave me upfront, I didn't have much choice with the bills I couldn't negotiate coming up. But if Genos kept paying for meals, I could just barely cover both.

"Fine."

"Cash."

Of course. I swore under my breath. "Fine. I'll have to go to the bank. Where can I meet you?"

"Nowhere, preferably. I'll send someone to your office in two hours."

"Okay, whatever."

He settled back in the salon chair and resumed his scrutiny of the mirror. "Pleasure doing business with you, detective."

"I want you to know, I'm not voting for you."

"I think we both know you don't vote."

We did.

I went back to the entrance, cleared out for the mayor's privacy, and found Genos smiling and talking with the hairdresser. She was giggling, like he'd said something amazingly witty. I hadn't thought the kid had it in him... but maybe when you looked like that, it took less.

"You done?" I asked, surprised at how sharp my voice sounded.

"Ah, yes sir." Genos took his little bag and gave the hairdresser a last smile before following me out. "How did it go?"

"Fine." I glanced at him. There was something odd. He looked good, of course, he always looked good, but now it was somehow... smoother. "Wait, weren't you- What happened to your bruises?"

"Oh." His ears went pink. "It's makeup. I let that girl demonstrate the concealer on me."

"And you bought some?"

"No, just hair product. I didn't want to buy something I wouldn't use."

I shifted my gaze up to his scalp. His hairstyle had changed, from neatly parted to tousled in a way that made him look charmingly disheveled. I'd always assumed the people who looked like that were just born with it, but maybe it was deliberate?

"I never even used that stuff when I had hair."

"I know."

I shot a glare at him.

"I have your old boxing posters, remember?"

"Plural?"

His ears upgraded to bright red. "Um."

"Never mind." I checked my phone for the time. I had a watch somewhere, but it either needed a new battery or was just broken, and I couldn't afford to find out. "There's time for food before my appointment. I'll introduce you to Mumen."

 


 

It had taken most of the day following Mayor Kamen around to get him alone, and I had to stop by the bank and collect Rover from my apartment, so it was well past evening by the time we made it to dinner. The noodle stand was pleasantly warm despite the dreary weather. Genos' hair had deflated on the way, but somehow looked great even drooping in his eyes.

Mumen was still on duty, dressed in his worn-but-spotless uniform, and nursing a sore shoulder that he assumed I wouldn't notice.

"Mumen, Genos. Genos, Mumen."

Mumen gave him a wide friendly smile, which Genos accepted with a nod. "Nice to meet you. You're working with Saitama now?"

"Yes," Genos said, puffing up a little bit with pride.

"But we shouldn't tell you about it," I said quickly. I wasn't sure if we'd broken any laws yet, but we were definitely fixing to.

"Ah, right." Mumen chuckled. "Other topics then. Genos, how do you like Z City?"

"I do," Genos said, to my surprise. "There's so many options for food, and entertainment, and shopping. Nothing like where I grew up."

"What do you do for fun in a small town?" I asked, suddenly curious.

"I... don't really know. I read a lot. Studied."

"No, for fun."

"Yes."

We stared at each other for a moment.

Mumen coughed, and I noticed the chef waiting for our order. Genos left it to me to choose, so I got us a couple of budget bowls. Spending Genos' money so freely wasn't fun any more.

The conversation stayed light while we ate. Mumen and Genos turned out to be pretty similar in temperament, and kept each other engaged in a long debate about detective novels that I'd never heard of. Mumen had to get to work, and I had a huge stack of cash burning a hole in my trench coat pocket, so we didn't stay longer than it took to shove food in our faces.

Rover was pacified by table scraps, the rain had slowed to a drizzle, and the walk back to the office was nice and mellow. The bad dream was almost forgotten, the truth of Genos' father shoved down where I didn't have to think about it.

"You can take off if you want," I told Genos. "I'm just gonna wait for the keys, then go start the stakeout."

"I can help!" Genos insisted. "I can... make coffee."

"You don't drink it, do you even know how?"

"I do! I make it for my grandfather." His face fell. "I hope he isn't too worried about me."

"He's probably driving himself nuts with it," I said, honestly.

Genos' brow furrowed. "You think?"

"He's your grandfather. Of course he's worried. Even if you'd told him where you were going he would be."

"You're right..." Genos looked like a kicked puppy. "I should call him."

"You should," I agreed. It would be for Genos' own good if his grandfather talked him out of all this and got him home. I'd already proposed an answer to the mystery that Genos liked, pursuing it any further wouldn't lead to any more closure.

His own good... That's what the voice on the phone had said a few days ago, urging me to give up the case. Maybe Genos' grandfather hadn't been threatened, just knew enough to know he didn't want to know more. It was no surprise he'd figured out Genos came to me, if Genos really had a bunch of my old boxing posters at home.

"Get a good night's sleep," I told him. "Stakeouts are really boring. You don't want to be tired on top of that."

"I will," Genos promised, and was distracted enough by remembering what a bad grandson he was that he left without further protest.

 


 

It was morning when I saw him again, after a night of note-taking and too much coffee and cup noodles. The exchange with the mayor's goon had gone well, so well I wondered how often he sent them on late-night cash exchanges, and I decided to leave Rover at home in case he got overprotective.

I already hadn't slept well the night before, so I have to admit I was in bad shape when Genos came to relieve me. That still wasn't an excuse for how long I stared at him before I managed to form a sentence.

"What... are you wearing?"

Genos glanced down at himself. "My vest and shirt from the bar got ruined, so I bought some new clothes. I thought it would be better to dress casually."

He had jeans on, and a sleeveless hoodie over a v-neck tank top. Revealing that one arm was metal all the way up past his shoulder, while the other was only a little beyond the elbow. I could see scars along his collarbone on the right side, the heavier-modded side, and more importantly, freckles all over.

For the first time since I'd met him, he looked his age. And maybe it was the sleep-deprivation, but I felt like a dirty old man for liking it.

"You look good," I heard myself say.

"Really?" He smiled. "I asked that girl at the salon yesterday for a recommendation. I just wanted something simple, inexpensive."

Oof. Knowing he'd been frugal actually turned me on more. "Yeah. Real good."

I stood up and accepted the bagel sandwich he'd brought, and gestured at my set-up.

"Okay so, you wanna write down everything you see around the building. People coming and going, even the ones that just seem to be stopping by to talk or something. After three days, we'll be able to tell what's a pattern and what's not."

Genos nodded solemnly. "Yes sir, I understand."

"Okay. Uh. You can use the coffeemaker to heat up water for noodles. Bathroom down the hall works. Write down when you take breaks too, just in case you miss something, but don't like, hold it until you hurt yourself."

He nodded again, a little dubious, and I got the feeling he was going to pee in a bottle or something instead.

I shrugged my coat over my shoulders, the pack of cigarettes thumping against my leg. I'd resisted the urge to smoke all night, but only because I knew Genos would be bothered by the smell.

"Call me if you need anything. I mean anything. Don't worry if you're bothering me, I promise you're not."

"Okay..." Once again, I knew he was going to ignore the instruction.

"No matter what you see, don't do anything but take notes, got it? No going to check things out. No closer looks. Just write it down and don't move."

"I've got it, sir."

He seemed sincere this time, so I headed for the door. "Okay, I'm off." I took a bite of bagel and around it absently added, "Be safe, I love you."

I was three steps down the hall when I realized what I'd said, and the memory of the look I'd seen on Genos' face as I turned the corner killed any hope that he hadn't understood me with my mouth full.

I'd known the kid a week and I'd just told him I loved him. And the worst part was, I didn't think I was lying.

At least there was no way he was going to fall asleep on the job now.

 

Chapter Text

It probably said something about the state of my... whatever-it-was with Genos, but I didn't have any trouble sleeping that day. Even with Rover drooling on, and slowly dissolving, my spare pillow.

I wasn't worried, really, about how Genos felt about me. It was clear he wanted in my pants from that first hungry once-over in my office, and the way he got so huffy over my past with Fubuki only confirmed it. So I knew he liked me. He was earnest enough that I thought he might convince himself he loved me.

No, that wasn't a problem. The problem was, he was too earnest. Too intense. Too young. He felt things so strongly they consumed him.

And I didn't feel anything, some days.

I had the office number set up to forward to my cell phone, but no one called. That wasn't unusual, I got more calls in the evening anyway, and I'd already turned down two cheating spouse cases to keep working with Genos. That was more job offers than normal.

After nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, Rover woke me to go outside, and I started rehearsing what I was going to say to the kid. Obviously I couldn't start a relationship with him. Even if he wasn't too young for me, there were a hundred reasons it was a bad idea.

He was going to hate me once he found out I was hiding the truth about his father, for one.

So by the time I went to relieve him, bringing dinner and the Rover-damaged pillow to make sitting all night easier, I had a speech in my head to let him down easy.

He greeted me by jumping out of the chair and exclaiming "Mr. Saitama!"

"Too loud," I winced. He immediately looked chagrined and checked the window.

"I'm sorry." It was a stage whisper this time. "I was excited to see you." Despite the chastising he was beaming at me, bright as the sun setting over the harbor.

"Listen, uh..." I pressed the takeout box into his hands. "About what I said this morning."

"Yes?" Genos said eagerly.

"I was really tired, and I wasn't really thinking... I guess I treated you like a kid. Thinking of you paternal-like. So, sorry about that."

"Oh." Genos sucked in a breath. "It's... okay."

"Right so. I better get to work."

"Right..." He didn't move. "Right."

"Genos."

"Right!" He blurted, and blushed. He wasn't wearing makeup today, and his pink cheeks looked out of place next to yellow-green bruises.

Genos rushed out past me. I didn't think I heard any sounds of crying, so I pushed the guilt from my mind and sat down by the window.

It was better this way.

 


 

The next two days were boring and awkward in turns. If I wasn't on stakeout duty I was sleeping or preparing for my next shift. I only saw Genos when we swapped places, and he'd sputter something and leave as fast as he could.

Finally, after our three days were up, we gathered in my office to go over the notes.

"You're really good at this," I said, flipping through pages of his precise handwriting. "I kinda wish I'd made you take the night shift. My schedule's not nearly so thorough."

"I just wrote everything," Genos muttered. "It was simple."

"Maybe for you, kid."

He winced. "I'm not a kid."

"Ah... Sorry." Looked like it was gonna take more than pretending nothing happened to smooth this over. "Well, uh, good news is it looks like we've got our in. Two out of three nights, the guards stuck to one side of the building for about forty minutes. Could be smoke break, could be laziness, doesn't matter. We can get in."

"What if they don't take a break again? What if it was a fluke?"

"We'll have to be sneakier." I snapped the notebook shut. "Either way, we're doing this tonight."

 


 

It was almost four in the morning when the guards had been doing whatever-it-was around the corner, and it was too risky to go check. Me and Genos met up at Kamen's dubiously owned property at one, and watched and waited until then. We hardly spoke, which was for the best since we weren't supposed to still be in here, but was torture anyway.

Genos was wearing the hoodie again. His bruises were gone but there were still healing cuts by his mouth and eye, making him look like a teenage hoodlum. I'd gone casual too, a long-sleeved shirt and dark slacks, and my trilby pulled low to keep my head from catching any light. Rover was with us tonight, since he had party tricks that might come in handy.

Like clockwork, at 3:50, the two ordinary-looking security guards circled around to the opposite side of the building. We waited about ten minutes to be sure they weren't coming back, then got moving.

I knew my way around a security system, but the one on the door was top-of-the-line. "We might have to cross our fingers," I warned Genos.

"Oh, this is the kind my grandfather used to have."

I glanced at him. "'Used to?'"

"It kept going off by accident. I didn't tell him it was from me sneaking out."

I snorted a laugh. "Fake ID, sneaking out, running off to the city. You're a terrible grandson."

To my relief, he smiled. "Want to see how I learned to turn it off?"

"Yes. Yes I do."

I stood back and let him work. Genos popped off one of his fingertips, leaving a thin metal spoke and several little gold connectors. He used the spoke to pry open the security box's cover, disconnected three wires, and connected two. The narrow screen flashed green, and displayed "OK."

"You are full of surprises, kid."

He frowned, and shoved the door so hard the lock broke. "I'm not a kid."

I gulped.

Rover led the way in, his eyes glowing brighter to light our way. It looked like a pretty standard warehouse, wooden crates and metal shipping cans, and a small forklift parked by the loading dock.

"Look for addresses," I told Genos. "And a crowbar."

I sent Rover with him when we split up, using my phone to take pictures of every shipping label I found. There was one crate with a loose lid that I managed to pry open with my bare hands, but I couldn't feel anything but packing peanuts.

We reconnected after a few minutes, too dangerous to stay in here for long.

"Anything?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I took pictures of the addresses, but a lot of them weren't labeled."

"Yeah, same thing I noticed." Rover snuffled at my hand, and gave a brief growl. "What's wrong, boy?"

He sniffed again, and I realized that was the hand I'd used to feel around in the crate.

"Rover, lick."

He whined.

"Come on, just one."

Tentatively, reluctantly, Rover licked my fingers. He shuddered, and whined some more, and then his fur started to ripple and his body swelled, and when it was over he was at least six inches taller.

"What the fuck," Genos hissed. I think it was the first time I'd heard him swear like that, and I couldn't blame him.

I wiped my hand on my pants. "Rover's party trick. Different drugs do different things to his system. That's stims, pure stuff too."

Rover started to drool, thick ropes of it splattering on the concrete floor, trying to get the drugs out of his body as fast as possible.

"Good boy," I told him, scratching his ears. His tail wagged, but he kept drooling. "We better get out of here. We've got addresses we can investigate, and we know they're moving drugs through here now."

We'd been a little cocky, I knew that, but for some reason I didn't think we'd have more trouble getting in than out. There were voices by the side entrance, and smoke drifting under the door. So it had been a break after all.

But as we got closer to the back entrance, the one we'd broken into, I saw the light flicker like someone had passed in front of it.

"Shit." I held my arm out to stop Genos. "Rover."

Still several inches bigger than normal, and with drool foaming at his mouth, Rover took off running out the door, bashing it open with his head. I heard shouting, and swearing, and as soon as the voices faded I grabbed Genos arm and ran.

Outside, by the light of streetlamps and the brightening sky, we saw figures chasing Rover through the fog. I wasn't worried about him, so I started to drag Genos back to safety, but one of the voices sounded familiar.

"Oh no..."

"What?"

"Nothing," I lied. "Let's move."

We ran for about a block, then slowed to a walk, trying to avoid attention. I kept hearing voices shouting here and there, hard to tell whether it was echoes or they'd split up. At least until we turned a corner and Genos shoved me back out of the way.

"You there!" A voice, a familiar voice shouted. "What are you doing out here?"

Genos shoved his hands in his pockets. "Nothing," he said, playing the part of the sullen street punk.

"Well do it somewhere else, there's..." Footsteps, and Genos took a half-step forward to keep me hidden from view. "Do I know you?"

"Dunno."

"Shit, are you Mori's kid?"

It took a great amount of effort to stop myself from swearing. So I was right, this was one of Fubuki's dad's goons.

"You... knew my dad?"

"Yeah. Ages ago. Before you were born, probably. We were all real sorry when we heard about what happened."

"Oh... Thank you."

"The boss sent some guys to look into it, but all they could do was take out the trash, you know?"

I heard Genos' breath catch. "Did they find out? Who did it?"

"Not for sure. Hey, is that why you're here in the city?"

"Looking for answers," Genos confirmed. "Thank you. For telling me."

"I know the boss'd give you a job if you need one, kid. Genos, right?"

"Y- Yes. Kuseno Genos. I use my grandfather's name."

"Makes sense. Don't need everyone to know you're related to Machine Gun Mori." The goon chuckled. "Seriously though, not everyone's gonna recognize you, and there's some kind of big rabid dog running around. Better get off the street before you get shot or bit."

"I will. Thank you."

The goon headed off, walking past Genos and in the other direction. If he'd looked back, even once, he would have seen me. But through some miracle he didn't, in fact after a few steps he checked his watch and took off in a jog.

I didn't dare breathe until he was out of sight, and I could tell Genos still wasn't.

"Kid?"

"Machine Gun Mori?" he blurted. He turned and glared at me, tears in his eyes. "My father was a hitman?"

"Ah... Yeah. Looks like."

"Did you know about this?"

I glanced around. "We should get off the street."

"Did you?"

"Yes, okay? I knew. I've got police reports back at my place and everything."

The tears spilled down his cheeks. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I didn't want to break your heart, Genos." I sighed. "I hoped what happened to your family had nothing to do with your dad's past. If you never needed to know... You deserve to be happy."

"Be ignorant, you mean."

"Will you come on back to my place already! You can yell at me once we're inside."

 

All the way back, Genos kept muttering and sniffling under his breath. I wasn't sure whether he was going to punch me or burst into tears once we got inside.

It turned out to be the latter.

I hugged him, awkwardly, which he accepted at least. It took some doing before I could pry him off and heat up water for tea.

"Should we just quit?" he asked, miserably, from my floor. I had a couch, but he'd decided on the floor, apparently. "I know what happened now. My father was a mob killer and he got what he deserved."

"Come on." I sat down next to him and offered him a cup, which he ignored. "I didn't know your dad, but the fact that he decided to leave and settle down in a small town says a lot."

Genos sniffed and wiped his nose with a pocket handkerchief he was still carrying, despite dressing down. "You think?"

"And at the very least, your siblings didn't deserve it. I mean. Your mom might have been in on it too. But your brother and sister wouldn't have."

"Y- yeah." He sat up a little straighter. "Yeah. Maybe... maybe it's in my blood."

"Wait, what?"

"That guy said his boss would give me a job. After we find who did it, maybe I'll join them."

"No!" I shouted. "Join the mob? Are you crazy?"

"Maybe. But it's my choice."

"It's a dumb choice! Don't make choices when you're upset, kid!"

"I'm not a kid!" He was shouting now too. "Stop calling me that! Stop pretending you know what's best for me!"

"I-" I couldn't really argue with that. "I'm... sorry."

He pressed the metal heels of his palms into his eyes.

"You... you'd be a good criminal, at least."

He snorted.

"No, really. You got us into that warehouse single-handed. And you kept it together talking to that goon. That must have been hard."

"I felt like I was gonna scream the whole time," he said, quietly.

"But you didn't. You handled that perfect."

Genos looked up at me, with red eyes. "I don't think I want to be a criminal."

"Good."

"I haven't thought past getting revenge."

"Ah... Not so good." It was the first time he'd admitted to me that was his plan.

"All I've thought about for the last four years, is finding out who killed my family, and killing them." Genos stared down at his hands. "Everything else has just been a front. Putting on an act, for my grandfather, for school. So they wouldn't find out and try to stop me."

Without thinking, I put my arm around him. "Genos..."

"You said I deserve to be happy. I don't think I know how anymore. I only know how to fake it."

It hit a little too close to home. "Haven't you liked being with me?"

His eyes were back on mine. "Yes, but... you don't like me the way I like you. So I have to pretend that doesn't bother me."

I sighed. "I'm sorry, Genos."

"It's okay. I can't force you to want me."

"Not that. I'm sorry I lied before. When I said I meant that 'I love you' like a paternal way."

"You... you didn't?"

I looked him straight in the eyes. "I don't know why, because you're crazy as hell, but I'm falling for you, Genos."

I'd been expecting him to go in for a kiss at that, and I wasn't disappointed. He was damp with tears and sloppy in his eagerness, but it was a hell of a kiss nonetheless. I was close to pushing him down on the floor and taking liberties, when I heard a scratching on the door.

"That's Rover," I murmured.

"Can't he wait?" Genos asked, plaintive.

"Don't worry, I'm not kicking you out after I let him in." I stood, and looked back over my shoulder. "You deserve to feel good once in a while."

His eyes were wide. "You mean..."

"I mean whatever you want, tonight."

Rover scampered in, a little smaller than usual after all the energy he'd expended. He ran to where I'd been sitting next to Genos and started drinking the discarded tea.

Genos was already on his feet. "Sir..."

I held up a finger. "One request."

"Yes, sir?"

"Do not call me 'sir' when we're having sex."

Genos bit his lip, but he was smiling. "I'll try... Saitama."

"Good." I cleared my throat, trying to pretend I wasn't flustered. "Now, uh, where were we?"

"You were about to throw me on your bed and fuck me until I can't remember my name."

"That sounds right."